Insights and Observations

The North Face Broke the Internet


This week, The North Face made headlines when one of its recent TikTok videos went viral. In the video, a North Face employee hand-delivered a new raincoat via helicopter to an unhappy hiker in New Zealand. The original video posted by Jenn Jensen has reached 11.4 million views and The North Face’s response video has reached 4.2 million views.

Watching the industry react, prompted me to ask myself: why did this go viral? Here’s my analysis:

While timeliness, a helicopter, and the gumption to follow through on the idea were required. The ingredients that created this viral phenomenon were nothing new. This is just good old-fashioned storytelling that took advantage of a cultural opportunity and responded quickly.

Let me explain. A good story has three elements: A character, a conflict, and a resolution that leaves the audience with an emotional response.  Here’s a treatment that demonstrates how these three elements come together had this story been scripted.

Nestled deep in the mountains of New Zealand a woman is enjoying a hike when it starts to rain. Never fear, she pulls out her brand new North Face jacket. Unfortunately, the rain descends with an unrelenting force and the jacket doesn’t hold up to its reputation. Soaking wet and questioning her decision to go on the hike, the woman decides she’s going to take matters into her own hands. She whips out her phone, records her disappointment, tags The North Face, and continues to hike until her phone dings. She’s in disbelief, her message worked and millions of other people are tuning in to support her as she battles the elements. Then something happens that she never would have expected. The North Face has dispatched an emergency chopper with a new jacket. She can officially countdown the hours until she’ll be dry and warm so long as she can wait long enough for the helicopter to arrive. A few hours later she hears the dull thump thump thump of helicopter rotors. The helicopter lands and as it’s personally handed to her by a smiling North Face employee she immediately feels warm and cozy. Not because of the jacket but because the brand went out of its way to serve her. She belongs in the mountains and she’s proud to wear The North Face logo. She’ll never stop exploring now.

While this treatment is a silly example of how this could have been scripted, I wouldn’t be surprised to see an idea like this on a pitch deck. From my perspective, there are a few reasons why story this took off:

  1. It was timely. Culture moves at the speed of light and the ability for a large brand to be agile enough to respond quickly is impressive.  The North Face saw an opportunity and jumped on it.
  2. The original post captured the attention of the outdoor industry. As soon as The North Face’s quality was called into question other brands like Columbia, Grundens, and Arc’teryx immediately jumped into the comments and started to jockey for position. The world was watching and the ball was in The North Face’s court.
  3. Finally, the story had a good resolution. It was light-hearted, fun, and made you smile. This act humanized the brand and restored our belief in the relationship between customers and brands. “If Jenn feels heard, then surely The North Face cares about me too.”

Telling stories is not a new idea but in this day and age where there is an overwhelming amount of content, it’s the good stories that stand out. I think that’s the takeaway from this example - a good story doesn’t need to follow a traditional format so long as it moves the audience emotionally. Sure, maybe not all brands have a helicopter on standby to rescue disgruntled customers, but every brand can tell a good story. It just requires bold creativity.