Should You Play Politics With Your Brand? Take a Lesson From Patagonia.

In these polarized times, most companies would rather court customers than controversy. Patagonia is different.

The outdoor clothing company is putting its money where its gear is, in a dramatic protest against President Trump’s plans to drastically reduce the size of two Utah National Monuments. With this move, Bear’s Ears will be reduced by 85 percent and Grand Staircase Escalante by 50 percent. This is the largest elimination of protected land in US history.

Rather than take out the obligatory full page ad in the New York Times, Patagonia made their statement right on the home page of their website. In stark white type on a black background, the home page simply says “The President Stole Your Land.” Click through to learn more and you discover opportunities to view videos about Bears Ears, tweet your displeasure directly to Trump, or sign up for email and text updates about efforts to protect public lands.

All this is but a prelude to a truly stunning move: Patagonia is filing a lawsuit challenging the legality of President Trump’s decision. While this just is one of a flurry of lawsuits contesting the government’s decision, it’s hard not to admire Patagonia’s boldness, regardless of where you stand on the politics of public land use.

Patagonia has a special stake in saving Bear’s Ears because the company lobbied hard to get President Obama to declare the land a National Monument. Now, one of his last acts as President is about to be undone.

But while this one is personal for Patagonia, they have a long track record of putting their profits into helping the planet. The company is a certified B Corp, an official designation for companies that meet set standards for social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Patagonia has been donating 1 percent of its yearly global profits to environmental causes since 1985. In 2016, the company announced a plan to give 100 percent of its Black Friday profits to small, grass roots environmental charities instead of their customary 10 percent.

The result? A record 10 million in sales. Patagonia got everything right. They chose a cause that is etched into their brand DNA and resonates with their base. Their creative approach was simple, direct, and assertive. And they demonstrated a sense of timing that would put Seinfeld to shame.

Last year’s Black Friday sale was right on the heels of the election, when many people were making protest donations to non-profits with a progressive bent. This year’s statement came immediately after President Trump’s announcement. Patagonia even managed to invite the ire of the House Natural Resources committee, which tweeted that the company’s move was a lie motivated by the desire to sell more products to “wealthy elitist urban dwellers from New York to San Francisco.” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke then retweeted the committee’s tweet, drawing criticism from former government ethics lawyer Walter Shaub and others.

For some companies, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is just an obligation but for those who get it, CSR can increase sales, awareness and passionate brand loyalty. While other companies are luring consumers with coupons and promotions, Patagonia is tapping into political outrage and making the government pay attention. It’s a gutsy, yet safe play for an environmental brand.

This type of stunt is a difficult thing to do well because many brands insert themselves in conversations they have no business participating in. If brands can find a cause that reflects the heart and soul of their identity and relates back to why consumers buy from them, they will win.