Patagonia’s Alex Weller on branding and protest

Speaking at last week’s Festival of Marketing, Alex Weller, marketing director, Europe at Patagonia, talked about how protest and politics are central to the brand’s mission

Last month, a shot of a clothing tag on a product from US outdoor apparel brand Patagonia began attracting buzz on Twitter. Unlike the usual messages about cleaning and the like, this tag contained a simple slogan: ‘Vote the assholes out’.

Unsurprisingly, Twitter users began immediately questioning whether the image could possibly be real, before a spokesperson from the brand confirmed that yes, it was, and that the special tag was appearing in just one product, the Stand Up Shorts. Plus it turns out that the line came directly from Patagonia’s owner and founder, Yvon Chouinard.

In a US election year, and particularly one that is more divisive than ever, one might assume that Chouinard was referring to the current US President, Donald Trump. But according to Alex Weller, Patagonia’s marketing director, Europe, it wasn’t quite as simple as that.

“This isn’t about voting out Donald Trump, as many people might think,” he said, while speaking at the Festival of Marketing last week, “and this wasn’t even a strategically considered marketing exercise. This was our product team taking a quote from Yvon that he said over and over again for a very long time, that any politicians that take money from fossil fuel interests to ignore science and to roll back environmental policy should be voted out.”

We have a track record, we have the muscle memory if you like, to make relatively fast decisions based on the context of the moment

Equally as remarkable as the existence of the tag in the first place, is Weller’s revelation that the first he and his team heard about it was when they saw it on Twitter themselves. We tend to assume that all brand marketing – in particular something as risqué as this – goes through several rounds internally before being launched into the world, but apparently Patagonia has a history of being reactive.