Copywriting Friday: “Beware of any endeavor that requires new clothes”

Published: March 2024

Copywriting Friday highlights the tools and techniques of persuasive content. Some of the examples may seem dated, but the principles are timeless (and critical for conversion rate optimization). Enjoy.

This article analyzes a bold and effective approach to earning the trust of your customers. It’s also about creating a brand that encourages word-of-mouth referrals.

“Beware of any endeavor that requires new clothes” is something that Henry David Thoreau said. It’s a favorite quote of Yvon Chouinard, founder of the company with the #1 market share in outdoor apparel: Patagonia.

Huh? A clothing manufacturer with $1.5 billion in annual revenue discourages people from buying new clothes? Patagonia goes further: It often delivers a “don’t buy” message on Black Friday, when every other marketer prays for the opposite.

What looks like a messaging blunder is actually a brilliant lesson in marketing and copywriting. It’s a way to cut through the promotional noise that assaults potential buyers and instead to deliver a memorable message.

Today’s analysis focuses on the YouTube video below. It’s 27 worthwhile minutes long. If you don’t have the time, we’ll excerpt some relevant bits.


We have all seen tens of thousands of ads and marketing statements. We get conditioned to be on our guard because we can reliably expect certain messages:

  • They will use hyperbole about their products.
  • They’ll make claims, usually with no proof.
  • Often we hear that something is new, as if new by itself is important.
  • There is no shortage of Buy Now buttons, sometimes including countdown timers to make sure we feel the urgency.

Then there’s this Patagonia video. It employs what’s known as a “pattern interrupt”: It does the opposite of what most people expect.

We hear about how one customer repaired his 15-year-old Patagonia shorts with cloth from a beach umbrella.

A pair of shorts laid out on a beach.

Another customer has hiked 10,000 miles, puts duct tape on her beloved Patagonia jacket, and feels a kindred spirit with other hikers who have similar patch jobs. She adds:

“The longer I keep a piece of gear, the more stories it accumulates and the more memories.”

Another guy says his beat-up shirt was with him on all his first expeditions, and throwing it away would be like “throwing away a journal.”

Copywriters are trained to go beyond mere specifications and features, to focus instead on the benefits of a product to customers (though we recommend that you don’t always follow that advice). Patagonia’s message goes beyond benefits such as keeping you warm and dry; it focuses on the things people love to do, and how they feel when using their trusted companion—a Patagonia garment.

The video is a radical departure in another way: Patagonia’s mission statement. We’ve all seen buckets of corporate-speak in mission statements. We hear about “undisputed marketplace leadership” and how it will provide “value-added” benefits to “stakeholders.” Language like that should be bottled as a sleep aid.

Contrast that with what Patagonia’s Chouinard says:

“The number one part of our mission statement is to make the best-quality product. Not ‘among the best’ but the very best.”

That statement aligns perfectly with what we hear in the video about how clothes are literally handed down to future generations.

A still from the video above. A photographer is talking about passing on his Patagonia clothes to his children.

Another copywriting concept is: “In the absence of value, price becomes a factor.” Patagonia has telegraphed such a high level of value that its high prices look reasonable.

Using Patagonia’s approach in your business

Many companies have extensive brand guidelines, sometimes becoming huge documents. Proper branding is indeed important. But a factor that’s just as important is authenticity. Few things cut through the cacophony of marketing messages the way a clear, authentic voice does. In your most-prominent messages, do you use worn-out phrases, the passive voice, and stuffy words? Instead, visualize yourself having a chat with someone in your target audience. Make your messages sound more like that conversation.

Do you and your competitors all sound alike? Could you swap logos on each other’s webpages and your customers might not know the difference? If so, you have an opportunity to use a pattern interrupt to stand out.

What could you say or do that would make people stop dead in their tracks and pay attention? We don’t mean the old gimmick of having a headline that says: “Free Beer!” Instead, what message is truly aligned with your brand but is wholly unexpected?

Patagonia’s mission statement—Build the best product—is painted on the side of a building.

And about your mission statement: How many people in your organization can do a decent job of reciting it? Never mind verbatim, but even getting the gist of it? Can you? Compare that with a mission statement about making the best-quality product. We suspect that almost all employees—and even customers—will know the Patagonia mission after hearing it just once.

It may be an exaggeration, but it is said that we all are tuned to a radio station whose call sign is WII-FM: “What’s In It For Me.” How crystal-clear are you broadcasting such that you cut through all the static and deliver a unique message that your listeners want to hear?

See you next time on Copywriting Friday.

How much did you like this article?

What’s your goal today?

1. Hire us to grow your company

We’ve generated hundreds of millions for our clients, using our unique CRE Methodology™. To discover how we can help grow your business:

Schedule your FREE strategy session

2. Learn how to do conversion

Download a free copy of our Amazon #1 best-selling book, Making Websites Win, recommended by Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Moz, Econsultancy, and many more industry leaders. You’ll also be subscribed to our email newsletter and notified whenever we publish new articles or have something interesting to share.

Browse hundreds of articles, containing an amazing number of useful tools and techniques. Many readers tell us they have doubled their sales by following the advice in these articles.

Download a free copy of our best-selling book

3. Join our team

If you want to join our team—or discover why our team members love working with us—then see our “Careers” page.

4. Contact us

We help businesses worldwide, so get in touch!

© 2024 Conversion Rate Experts Limited. All rights reserved.