‘We're not activists’: Timberland distinguishes its eco focus in first ‘truly’ global push

Timberland launches its biggest – and first 'truly global – campaign

Timberland is committing to planting 50m trees by 2025, a mission that will fuel the content of its newly-aligned marcomms teams in the years to come. But it's an equal focus on fashion and profit that its leadership hopes will distinguish such an eco-led purpose from those of its outdoor competitors.

Timberland has already planted more than 10m trees globally since 2001 and now plans to ramp up this effort with the support of 10 environmental organizations. The international effort – which will concentrate in Haiti, China, the Dominican Republic, the US, Tanzania and Mali in year one – will be supported by the brand’s largest-ever global campaign, dubbed Nature Needs Heroes.

Launching today (5 September), the initiative will come to life across print, digital, out-of-home, social and PR, as well as at multiple live events in cities across the world. Such activations will feature a diverse range of “eco-heroes” – people who are committing themselves to creating a greener planet in communities around the world.

Timberland hopes this cast of grassroots influencers will help set it apart from similar-sounding brand missions and purposes.

While the outdoors company has promoted its ecological bent since its founding in 1973, such an ambitious commitment as its tree plant still lags behind the footsteps of other outdoor brands: Patagonia’s revenue-maiming Trump protest, and Fjällräven's environmental accelerator program, to name a few.

So, in a twist to the usual nature-focused narrative, Timberland hopes to elevate its eco-heroes to “athlete” status through the integrated, multi-year campaign.

“The North Face has its mountain climbers and Vans has its skaters," explained Argu Secilmis, Timberland's vice-president of global brand. "Now, we’ll have our game changers."

On a higher level, Secilmis believes Timberland's attitude to saving the planet will stand out from its competitors' precisely of that – its attitude.

The label is vaguely proud and highly aware of its position as a for-profit brand: one that can plant trees, raise awareness and improve the eco credentials of its production line, but also one that needs to sell its own notions of style before it can fund anything else.

“We are not activists,” declared Secilmis. “We've always been an outdoor lifestyle brand ... and going forward, style is going to play a big role in what we are doing.

“We've now decided that everything we do needs to filter through our creative vision – our passion for nature combined with our desire and energy for fashion. Integrating the two ... makes us very powerful and competitive in the marketplace, and very unique.”

Purpose for the shareholders

A powerful position in the marketplace will eventually lead to more sales and happier shareholders for parent company VF Corporation, which also counts The North Face, Kipling and Vans among its portfolio.

However, Secilmis explained, Timberland’s decision to join the multitudes of brands currently pivoting to purpose came on the orders of its parent company

VF’s chief executive, Steve Rendle, announced his plans to turn the 120-year-old fashion company into a “purpose-led, performance-driven and value-creating organization” just over a year ago, citing a cyclical model of purpose-driving-profit-driving-purpose in his presentation to stakeholders.

So, for the last two years, Timberland has worked under the new leadership in Jim Pisani, Timberland’s global president, to transform itself from a "product innovation, problem solving brand into a purpose-led brand", according to Secilmis.

“We looked back to our history ... and elevated all the touch points where we could improve what we do for the environment, outdoors and all consumers," he said. "We talked about being more responsible in everything we do, and that led to our strategy and campaign – Nature Needs Heroes.”

Restructuring for global messaging

The initiative is, Secilmis believes, Timberland’s “truly global brand campaign”. His team in marketing communications has pulled together across the world to make it happen: tapping talent in the international offices of its agency, Spring Studios, shooting content in North America, Europe and Asia, and collaborating across its own head offices in New Hampshire and Switzerland.

To make room for such collaboration, Secilmis and Pisani had to rework the marketing organization’s structure. It now revolves around content creation, because, Secilmis noted, “most of our marketing spend goes on asset creation in digital, and the digital space is our growth area for the future”.

The team hired the former Diesel marketer Gian Luca Bersezio as director of global brand communication and content management, and implemented a flexible, mobile working policy for its senior brand and marketing leaders.

“We [previously] had a lot of ineffectiveness and inefficiencies,” Secilmis said. “Now we’re more connected through our global network and through our agency network – that’s something we've never done at Timberland.

“This campaign, in a broader sense, is proof we can bring a lot of components together, and it’s there for us to live off over the next couple of seasons. That also shows the trust and confidence we have in [the initiative] and how we want to build this brand.”

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