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.

4 Responses

  1. Sarah Truxillo says:

    I have to say, that movie introduced me to REI. I was so impressed with that part of the story, I joined the co-op. From there, I discovered REI Adventures. My daughter and I are going to Utah this summer on a REI trip. I would say it was effective marketing! From South Louisiana swamps to Utah we go!

  2. JEMJC says:

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

  3. emitahill says:

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

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