Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
The outdoors has become a sanctuary for many people this year, as the coronavirus pandemic keeps countless restaurants and venues closed — some permanently — while hiking, picnics and other alfresco adventures allow for socially distanced respites from a challenging year. The North Face's new campaign encourages people to reset their "normal" lives through the power of exploration, while making the outdoors more accessible for communities of color, who are more likely to live in nature-deprived areas and face systemic racism when they do explore, according to a company announcement.
The Reset Normal campaign launched on Oct. 15 with a motivational video by creative agency Sid Lee that brings to life crucial moments in 2020 and illustrates how the power of exploration can help people adjust.
"We thought we had faced the worst," says a voiceover from Emmy Award-winner Lena Waithe, as people climb, ski and run in tricky weather. The video cuts to scenes of different struggles, like fires and COVID-19. "The mountain has changed. Our biggest challenge isn't off in the distance, it's at our feet. What we do now says everything about who we are, who we will be and the legacy we leave."
The North Face goes beyond advertising with this campaign and pledges $7 million toward diversifying the outdoors through a global fellowship program with Waithe and climber Jimmy Chin. Both were chosen for their histories in effecting change in their respective industries, with the brand noting the duo "brings unique perspectives and expertise to tackling the obstacles that currently prevent equitable exploration for all."
Return to Facebook
Reset Normal marks the apparel brand's return to advertising on Facebook. The North Face was one of the first major brands in June to join a boycott condemning the platform's failure to crack down on hate speech. Now, it's back on the social behemoth's suite of apps and plans to extend its latest campaign to Instagram. Brand ambassadors and athlete partners will create videos to share how they plan to reset their normal in 2020. Augmented reality filters on Instagram and TikTok will further extend the campaign's reach and encourage social audiences to participate in spreading the word to advocate for change.
Social media challenges are a popular way for brands to affordably spur awareness on consumers' favorite online platforms and inspire direct interactions with fans. While some brands are still holding back on full-blown campaigns to trim spending amid an economic downturn, partnerships with brand ambassadors or celebrity influencers can help companies like The North Face maximize budgets.
By enlisting bigger names like Waithe and Chin — the latter of whom is best known for directing the 2018 Academy Award-winning documentary "Free Solo" — The North Face can leverage their past work and prowess in film, nature and elevating underrepresented communities. The outdoor brand now has the opportunity to support change at the tail end of a tough year, letting Waithe and Chin help form a group of experts across culture, entertainment, academia and the outdoors to help guide The North Face on spending $7 million to address the outdoors' lack of diversity.
"For 10 years, we've been working to reset the barriers to exploration and make it more accessible for all," Steve Lesnard, global VP of marketing and product, said in emailed comments to Marketing Dive. "But 2020 has proven we need to radically accelerate that work and collaborate with a broad-reaching community to help us do so."
"For 10 years, we've been working to reset the barriers to exploration and make it more accessible for all. But 2020 has proven we need to radically accelerate that work and collaborate with a broad-reaching community to help us do so."
The North Face, global vice president of marketing and product
Since 2010, The North Face has donated $500,000 a year to nonprofits that support exploration and nature through its Explore Fund Grant program. It's worked to enact change also through marketing, committing in 2018 to equal representation of women in all of its ad creative, social media and other content, kicking off with a series of short films profiling boundary-pushing women. That effort, dubbed #SheMovesMountains, was the first of several marketing initiatives that began to expand the brand's definition of "exploration." In September 2018, The North Face built on that mission with a global campaign positioning exploration as a state of mind, with video creative designed to inspire curiosity within the arts, sports and other interests beyond its outdoor roots.
"For me, exploration has always been a mindset," Waithe said in a press release.
Underscoring how it has been a tumultuous year on many fronts, the campaign arrived just two days after The North Face announced a shakeup with its leadership. Steve Murray, former president of the Americas at parent company VF Corp., replaces Arne Arens as global brand president.
Still, Reset Normal, similar to 2018's push to redefine exploration, could broaden the brand's consumer base to people beyond its core demographic. With Waithe and Chin lending their voices to Reset Normal through their expertise in film and histories of championing diversity, The North Face can deepen connections with a wider audience of consumers who increasingly look to buy from socially conscious brands working to spur tangible change.