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The call of the wild rings out down in the valleys, over mountaintops, across the high seas, and… through the computer screen? 

At first glance, it might seem like the great outdoors and digital marketing are inherently at odds. But as outdoor life and our daily technologies begin to overlap, they’re quickly converging, too. From street fashion to viral campaigns and new spins on age-old advertising tactics, more and more brands are taking cues from Mother Nature. And the timing is right: today, Americans are flocking to national parks in record numbers and reviving simple pastimes as a cure for screen fatigue. 

So if 2020 meant staying safe inside the home, and 2021 brought a more balanced hybrid of indoor and outdoor activity, will 2022 see us step fully into nature?

From the hyper-niche to the mainstream 

Each year, only a handful of elite climbers summit Mount Everest and K2, the two tallest peaks on Earth. If you want to be among them, you’ll need more than just top-tier strength and technique—you’ll need serious gear. We’re talking wind-resistant shells, abrasion-proof pants, and Gore-Tex layers galore.

But this type of techwear is no longer reserved for Everest mountaineers fending off the elements. Next time you’re on a crowded city street, look around; you might be surprised to see a base camp-ready jacket. This trend has a name, “Gorpcore,” and it entails wearing high-level outdoor apparel as everyday attire, a style statement regardless of the season.

Today, even brands that previously targeted entirely different market segments are leaning into the outdoor aesthetic. Take Gucci, for instance. In partnership with the North Face, the Italian fashion house unveiled a recent collection via TikTok that put it on unfamiliar terrain, “against a backdrop of volcanic black sands, rolling green hills and glaciers.” 

“We have come to appreciate open spaces and beautiful scenery again on a different scale,” fashion writer David Hellqvist tells The Guardian. “More than ever, people want their clothes to have a purpose and ask more of them because technology enables us to.”

When tapping into trends with purpose and staying power, brands that embrace the outdoors can go out without going out of style.

Get outside now, shop later 

In the era of the one-click buy and ultra-fast consumption, some brands are also using outdoorsy themes as new ways to humanize themselves and connect with customers. Others are utilizing outdoors-centric messaging to walk the walk when it comes to sustainability as a core value in their businesses.

Check out how a few notable brands are making waves:

  • A new take on self-care: Footwear brand Merrell brought simplicity to self-care using the outdoors in its “More Less” campaign. Released to celebrate Women’s History Month, its featured video replaces skin-care products and hyped-up fitness routines with going for a hike. “The goal of this campaign is not just to reclaim outdoor spaces for women, but to help them reclaim themselves,” says Janice Terrant, Merrell’s CMO. 
  • Don’t buy this jacket: Patagonia has been outspoken about climate action for decades. To back it up, the brand went as far as to take out a full-page ad in the New York Times telling readers not to buy its products. It goes on to describe the environmental impact of throwing away clothing rather than repairing or repurposing it. And while the brand may have lost a sale in the moment, the campaign solidified its message and encouraged a base of lifelong users.
  • REI’s #OptOutside: Each year on Black Friday, outdoor retailer REI does the unthinkable and closes its doors to the public on the busiest day of the shopping season. Instead of bracing for shoppers queued up at 4 a.m., it gives all employees a paid day off with simple instructions: Go outside. The company also picks annual themes related to the outdoors; this year’s theme places emphasis on making outdoor culture more accessible and inclusive.

Out-of-home advertising for the digital age

Rather than employing outdoor iconography to reach audiences through digital channels, some brands are simply meeting them out in the real world.

When it comes to crafting shared experiences in advertising, the odds are stacked up against marketers. As the audience’s attention continues to veer to the touch screen, most ad content is consumed by one individual at a time. That’s part of why out-of-home advertising (OOH)—things like billboards, murals, kiosks, or even the sides of public transport—is seeing a resurgence. Following a drop in 2020, data from eMarketer shows that digital out-of-home advertising spending increased nearly 40% in 2021.

So what’s drawing strategists to this seemingly old-school tactic? For one, it can bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds. While catching a glimpse of a road sign may be a fleeting experience, that sign gets a new life when someone shares it on social media. 

Technology is also transforming out-of-home advertising in other ways. Rather than purchasing a static space, there’s now an opportunity to make changes on the go through programmatic digital advertising. This tactic utilizes AI insights and data analytics to figure out metrics like “best time” to deliver messaging and, further, helps marketers craft relevant ads. 

While in the past outdoor advertising brought the risk of low ROI, the digital platforms of today offer a chance to adapt to what works—and, most importantly, dim the lights on what doesn’t. So we all know we could benefit from a little more time outside. But it turns out that your digital marketing strategy could, too.

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