Research has shown that the pandemic-squeezed last couple of years have had a debilitating effect on social interactions, which has led to a number of mental health issues, including elevated anxiety and depression due to increased isolation. In order to combat lonely quarantines, surveys show elevated participation in outdoor recreation, including throngs of visitors to national parks.
Continuing this thread, this June marks Great Outdoors Month, an extension of Great Outdoors Week forged by President Clinton in 1998, which gradually expanded by succeeding administrations. In order to encourage social connection while getting outside during this time, when the sun shines for longer in the Northern Hemisphere, Merrell shoes debuted the Walk & Talk hotline in 2022. This hotline connects consumers with outdoor representatives to accompany them during walks.
During a time when social connections are strained and loneliness is at an all-time high (according to The New York Times), Merrell’s hotline offers people human interaction and a natural reconnection during June’s great outdoors celebration. Until the end of the month, consumers can phone 1-844-WALKTLK/1-844-925-5855 to link up to one of Merrell’s outdoor reps.
Participants can choose from different prompts — a guided meditation, outdoor motivation, or dad jokes — to have operators accompany them on walks. They can do this Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET. As an added bonus, consumers who call the hotline will receive a 15% discount on their next order at Merrell.com.
To dig further into the origins of this innovative campaign, The Manual chatted with Jenny Bernseen, Merrell’s brand equity marketing manager, over email. The following interview has been edited for clarity.
TM: How did the idea for Walk & Talk originate?
JB: At Merrell, we want to empower all people to confidently explore the outdoors because we believe everyone should be welcome, no matter their location. We launched the Walk & Talk hotline, which we believe does just that. Getting outdoors can be as easy as opening the door and taking the first step.
While many know the benefits of a walk outdoors, oftentimes, barriers come in the way of stepping outside, such as lack of time, lack of energy, or lack of companionship. Through our campaign, we’re hoping to get people excited to go outside for a walk and have a new source of entertainment.
TM: What motivated Merrell to take on this mental health issue?
JB: We created this campaign in order to reach as many people as possible, to shift their perceptions about the outdoors, and to get people outside to enjoy the benefits of nature — and this was a really creative way to do that.
During a time when loneliness from the pandemic is at an all-time high, this new hotline encourages individuals to get on the phone and speak with someone while reaping the benefits of the outdoors. Physical activity, such as walking, boosts brain function, while socializing enhances brain health.
The combination — going on a walk while talking to someone — is a great way to keep your brain healthy.
TM: Does Walk & Talk come on the heels of any other Merrell campaign?
JB: When it comes to the great outdoors, Merrell is continuously evolving, always looking for new and innovative ways to inspire new generations of hikers and athletes to explore terrains less traveled and choose the trail. With that in mind, we are getting ready to launch our latest elite Merrell Test Lab product innovations in mid-July.
TM: Who are the live operators and how were they trained?
JB: We have nine live operators with an average of 10+ years of call center customer service experience, who were carefully interviewed and selected, prior to undergoing brand training. The associates cover a variety of backgrounds and areas of the country and bring a wide range of diversity that is tied together by all of their passions for being active outdoors.
Along with scripts provided to assist them through their calls, operators also went through extensive training on how to deal with any calls that go off script and how to add their own personality to the scripts. Prior to taking their first live calls, the team went through multiple days of mock calls.
TM: How has the program been going so far?
JB: Within the first few weeks of the hotline being live, we’ve received nearly 200 callers. That said, it’s truly about getting more people outdoors, so even if they hear about the hotline and go outside without dialing the hotline directly, we still consider that a win. After experiencing the Walk & Talk hotline, we’ve found a majority of callers have felt motivated to go and get outside, which at the end of the day, is our primary goal in launching this program.
TM: What is one of the dad jokes?
JB: What do you call a gathering of single hikers? A trail mixer.
TM: Where is your favorite place to Walk & Talk?
JB: (I) don’t have one favorite place. (Merrell) likes to get creative on what we consider ‘outdoors.” Many think it has to be mountains, trails, etc., but we encourage everyone to find outdoor locations near them. Whether it’s a local park, street, or even subway station, you can find outdoor space.
TM: Are there plans for similar future mental health promotions?
JB: Women have been largely underrepresented in the outdoor space and we launched part one of our “More Less” campaign back in March 2021 to break through the “self-care” noise and remind women that self-care is health care and time outdoors is the greatest form of self-care. “More Less” calls out the gimmicky, unrealistic, and expensive world that the wellness market has become and aims to ignite a movement to redefine how women approach self-care. With this notion in mind, we invited consumers to attend a pop-up to reimagine self-care, with an untraditional experience and complimentary self-care treatments.
Part two of this campaign will launch next month and shine a light on countless health benefits that the outdoors has to offer women, including data from guests who attended the pop-up, and invite them to give up the more, more, more of the self-care industry and get outside.