Black Friday Backlash

By John Snyder, Grapeshot, CEO

Another holiday shopping frenzy is upon us as consumers scour retailers online and in person for deals that will spread joy and cheer to their loved ones the nation over.  While the impulse to shop until you drop may be born from a place of kind generosity, often people find themselves losing perspective and behaving in extreme ways that contradict the holiday spirit.

Perhaps at no other time are some of the darker elements of our human character on more prominent display than during Black Friday, the annual kick-off to the holiday shopping season.  We've all seen the video footage of consumers stampeding into retail aisles en masse on Thanksgiving night--in some cases, trampling their fellow deal searchers.  Major retailers and the range of brand marketers they service have been in cahoots with midnight deals that whip the vast American middle class into a state of adrenalized excitement.

Black Friday has become such a commercial and cultural staple that it begat a slew of other holiday traditions for the other days of the week, i.e., Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, Brown Thursday and even Small Business Saturday.   Furthermore, what started out as a purely U.S. trend has now been adopted overseas, including my home country of the United Kingdom.

Over the years, Black Friday has received a figurative black eye.  Stories of bad behavior ranging from fighting to stealing toys from kids does nothing to elevate the collective holiday spirit and from a marketer perspective, it's not the kind of scenario with which you would want your brand to be associated.   There has been a growing backlash on social media to Black Friday that should have marketers concerned, if not boycotting.

I predict, based on personal anecdotal evidence, that consumer fatigue around the notion of Black Friday may very well be kicking in.  After a big Thanksgiving feast, I believe that people are starting to realize that they can just sit back in their living rooms and relax with family and friends versus enduring the mayhem of savaging shopping aisles.  This behavior will be further encouraged by such services as Amazon Prime with its free two-day shipping.

Despite my prognostications of decreasing enthusiasm and interest in Black Friday, there is presently no strong evidence that marketers are listening; the amount of Black Friday-focused branded content trafficked on the Web this 2015 holiday season confirms that marketers still see it as a major opportunity.  In fact, according to Grapeshot tracking, we saw Black Friday-themed content increase dramatically this year by 331% compared to 2014.  Approximately 28 million web sites ran Black Friday-themed content.

However, if consumers continue to lose excitement for it, you can be sure that advertisers will follow suit by not allocating as much of their holiday promotional content budgets for this day.