By Eric Smith

For two days last July, Kelty employees left the confines of their Boulder, CO, office and gathered at nearby Flagstaff Mountain to brainstorm some new branding strategies.

The outdoor gear manufacturer chose this spot in the Boulder foothills for its proximity to company headquarters, but mostly for its ability to inspire creative, outside-the-box thinking about how Kelty could reposition its brand.

Laughter rained down from the mountainside during the brainstorming sessions, recalled Eric Greene, the company’s senior vice president and general manager. So did the company’s newest campaign, Built for Play, which Kelty unveiled earlier this year.

Built for Play encourages spending more time outside, and one of the first actions of Kelty’s campaign was Ditch Day, a companywide, company-approved day for employees to skip work and enjoy the great outdoors. The day was both devised during and inspired by those mountain meetings.

“People are stuck in their cubicles and looking at their PowerPoints,” Greene said. “We are saying, ‘Just get out there because it’s good for you.’ At the simplest level, our message is, ‘Go play because the world needs more play and to be less serious.’”

So next Friday, April 27, Kelty employees will play hooky, so to speak, by spending the day outside and not working. But the company is also asking customers, and really anyone who needs a dose of Mother Nature in their lives, to join them by hitting the trail, strolling through the park or running the rapids instead of being tied to their desk.

To promote the occasion, the Kelty team created a website, kelty.com/ditchday, listing suggested activities that range from the simplest of outdoor activities, such as taking your pup to the dog park, to more adventurous excursions, such as venturing into the woods for a weekend-long camping trip.

The team even came up with some handy excuses that employees can give their bosses when they don’t show up at work. These include everything from highly contagious pink eye to jury duty to one of Greene’s favorites (and one of his contributions), a scheduled colonoscopy—because “no one’s going to question that.”

You can even download a GIF to invite friends to Ditch Day. Kelty will award a gear package to whoever submits the best photos showcasing the day’s outdoor shenanigans.

Ditch Day is just one part of the Built for Play campaign, which Greene said was inspired by a customer who reached out to the company a few years ago with an equipment repair request.

The company received a tattered Kelty external frame backpack in the mail, along with a note from a 72-year-old man asking that the company repair the pack and not replace it. The pack had been with him through four ex-wives and seven dogs, on six continents and over 19,000 miles of trails. He wanted it with him for whatever adventures remained.

“That was the original inspiration for Kelty Built, which has caught on because we make durable, long-lasting gear,” Greene said. “But what are we selling here? Our gear is durable and all that, but this is about creating fun, being the instigator of creating memories, so we upped the game around Built for Play. That’s what you need the versatile, durable gear for in the first place.”

As a gear maker and founding member of The Conservation Alliance (along with The North Face, REI and Patagonia), Kelty also believes this campaign hearkens back to its Founder, Dick Kelty, who Greene said would be proud of this later iteration of the company.

“One of the things we’ve been conscious of is looking at what was his original spirit and intent, and would he still be proud of us,” Greene said. “It’s very deliberate because it was part of his philosophy. He thought very much the same way, so it’s been in the company’s DNA since day one all those years ago.”

Ditch Day, and the broader Built for Play campaign, is more than merely a day when all Kelty employees will be backcountry skiing or mountain biking or camping. Greene said the marketing effort has a measurable return because it is helping solidify the company’s branding position and will grow business as more people spend time outdoors.

Moreover, Greene said, the campaign is just “the right thing to do.” It encourages more people to play outside, which will inspire them to take better care of natural spaces, which will inspire them to share that stoke with others.

“On a personal level, the world will be a better place if people get outside more often,” he said. “The more people get outside, the more they’ll appreciate it and the more they’ll protect it, which is, of course, good for everybody’s business. We want the appreciation to come from the heart. That love will hopefully spark the love of conservation and being stewards of our environment.”

Photo courtesy Kelty