The North Face Gets Hit by Lightning Strike from Oil & Gas Industry

As Outdoor Industry leads quest for more sustainable practices, Oil & Gas targets TNF as salve for recent bad news.

Mike Geraci
August 31, 2021

Apparently, the outdoor industry’s sustainability initiatives are starting to make waves with the oil and gas industry.

A seemingly small and benign act by The North Face in the name of brand purpose has been leveraged into a PR lightning strike by the oil and gas industry, making the outdoor apparel giant the face of  “crazy hypocrisy” about the industry’s use and reliance on oil and gas-based products in its manufacturing.

Innovex Downhole Solutions, a Houston-based oil/gas well services company with 100 employees, says it was denied an order of jackets by The North Face as Christmas presents for their employees because Innovex is an oil and gas business.

In response, this week, Chris Wright, the CEO of Denver-based Liberty Oilfield Services, launched a “Thank You, North Face” campaign, with seven billboards around The North Face's Denver offices, a campaign video, website, and social media campaign.

The campaign is a classic Lightning Strike as outlined in the book Play Bigger–a PR-driven event designed to reveal and champion an issue or point-of-view and your leadership of it.

Why is it called a Lightning Strike? 

Literally, a lightning strike is a force of nature. They are rare, quick, precise bursts of energy that disrupt; They earn attention because they make a lot of noise that reverberates throughout the area and have the potential to start a fire. They’re also a little scary.

Metaphorically, a Lightning Strike campaign is also designed to disrupt, make noise, earn attention, and light a fire among your target audience: internal, external, or both simultaneously.

  • Rare - Few companies have the courage to commit to a position. Fewer still have the conviction to own it and defend it publicly. That’s why Lightning Strikes are so effective, particularly in an era when our comfort with risk is low but the business need for a pov is high.
  • A Quick, Precise Burst - When done correctly, Lightning Strikes are single, powerful events that are crystal clear on the intended audience and impact. 
  • Disruptive - Lightning Strikes tap into the tension that exists between the old and the next. They show the audience there is another way, questions their reality, names the enemy, and reframes the paradigm.   
  • Earn Attention -  Lightning Strikes are designed to make the news. An event so remarkable that through word-of- mouth or traditional media, people talk about it.  TY, NF campaign has been picked up by news media and spread widely via social media. 
  • Potential to Start a Fire - Lightning Strikes should demonstrate commitment and conviction to the strategy, as a way to rally your team, your customers, and your market to your quest. 
  • Scary - It’s never easy to publicly express your intentions and direction while naming the enemy. You are now committed. There’s no turning back. 

Other Examples:

It will be interesting to see if/when/how The North Face responds. The Thank You, North Face campaign opens a door and provides a platform for a larger conversation about the brand's sustainability initiatives, as well as an invitation to highlight why oil & gas has decided to target the outdoor industry, particularly in the face of all the bad news for climate change deniers/fighters in Oil & Gas lately:

  • A Dutch court ruled Shell "owed a duty of care to the citizens of the Netherlands, where the company has its headquarters, to protect them from the consequences of global warming like rising sea levels" and ordered them to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030.
  • A quarter of Exxon's board was taken over in shareholder election by an activist hedge fund who wants anaccelerated transition to lower carbon fuels.
  • 61% of Chevron's shareholders recently pushed back against the Board and leadership in voting foran accelerated approach to reducing "Scope 3" emission, such as carbon-based sources.

Ad legend John Hegarty judges big ideas on three criteria: Is it memorable, is it motivating, and is it truthful? In the battle of ideas and strategies, Lightning Strikes achieve all three in a way that will reverberate for a long time to come.


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