Brands in the News

Wild, REI and the Power of Product Placement

27 Mar , 2015  

Last week I was in Europe teaching in Germany and Denmark. On the flight home I finished Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and then watched the movie. I recommend both.

Two brands get special recognition in Wild: Snapple and REI. Outdoor retailer REI particularly stands out.

In the movie, Strayed struggles with blisters because her boots are too small. So she calls REI and the company sends her a new pair for free. The boots are waiting at the next stop on her route. Strayed is thrilled and declares that REI is the best company, ever.

This is about as good as it gets when it comes to brand building. REI shines as a company that cares about customers and will do what it takes to make things right. The endorsement feels authentic and real. If I were going on a long hike, I would start by visiting REI.

There are two interesting things about this.

First, the placement is based on a real story. Strayed mentioned REI in the book; this is what happened on her trip. Authenticity really matters. The reason the story is so powerful is that REI didn’t pay for the placement. The company simply provided great customer service.

This is why delivering a great customer experience is so important. People remember it and talk about it. You might not realize it right away, but eventually it pays off.

Second, the REI story changed between the book and the movie. In the book, REI stumbled. The new boots were supposed to be in a stop called Burney Falls, but the REI folks never sent them. Strayed had to press on to the next stop, Castle Crags. This meant she had to walk eighty-three more miles in the troublesome boots. Somehow REI’s snafu vanished during the movie production process. REI has friends.

Building a great brand in the world today isn’t just about developing great advertising. It is about creating experiences that people talk about and remember. If people like you, the brand builds. REI eventually came through for Cheryl Strayed and she returned the favor in her book and in the movie with the sort of support money simple can’t buy.

3 Responses

  1. JEMJC says:

    Great piece! I assume you meant to say she had to walk eighty-three more miles and not eight-three.

  2. emitahill says:

    Fascinating. I love REI. But the change from book to movie is hilarious. Some $$ must have changed hands for that great marketing.

Leave a Reply


Conversation Across the Site

  • emitahill { Although it wasn't classroom experiences, nonetheless I did a lot with zoom in the past months including giving public talks, leading discussions, joining with friends... }
  • GTPlaza { "This blog is really informative, Thank You! for sharing this information. I have also bookmarked your blog. Global Trade Plaza DM ( ) Top... }
  • emitahill { In your description of the Trump brand for the Republicans you don't mention the push back on access to voting which will of course keep... }
  • David Rose { This sounds very very difficult. You put alot of energy into it and obviosly care. I would suggest you focus on the room and let... }
  • M E Lesniak { I think you picked the wrong hill to stand on. You work at one of the most expensive degree factories in the country and I’m... }
  • Stephen Calkins { Forgiveness based on income? What if it is a wealthy family that figured borrowing cheaply was a good deal, but there is massive wealth? What... }
  • Read more Comments »

Collaborate with Tim

Tim helps companies around the world build great brands. To schedule a program or event click here. To learn more about Tim’s books, click here.