What comes into your mind when you think of Black Friday? Bargains, sure.
But you’ll probably also picture long lines of shoppers jostling for position outside stores, discounted TV sets being snatched from shelves and consumers wrestling for that last must-have toy.
It’s fair to say that the most intense shopping weekend of the year – which takes place annually over the last weekend in November – brings out the worst in people.
Unbelievably, there’s even a website that records the number of deaths and injuries that can be directly attributed to Black Friday and its Cyber Monday cousin. Since the site began keeping records in 2006, 10 people have been killed and 105 injured in the pursuit of bargains.
Black Friday marketing
As a marketer, violence hopefully won’t be part of your Black Friday strategy. But the weekend will still probably evoke an element of anxiety; how are you going to make your brand stand out from the crowd? How are you going to measure ROI?
Like it or loathe it, Black Friday continues to drive sales and brands ignore it at their peril. In 2016, $12.8 billion was spent online by consumers in the US, a 15 per cent increase on the previous year.
More significantly, Adobe Digital Insights reported that Cyber Monday achieved a new record for online sales with $3.45 billion spent, a 12.1 per cent increase over 2015. This was the largest online sales day ever in the US and indicates that online is arguably now a more attractive proposition for many brands.
Black Friday and social media
That online boon was – perhaps unsurprisingly – good news if you happen to own a social network.
Much of this activity would have involved straightforward discount ads like the one below. Consumers will be on red alert for big savings, so most brands adopt this angle with their Black Friday campaigns.
However, in this article we’re talking about standing out from the crowd. Frenzied price-slashing is so ubiquitous that it has become incredibly difficult for all but the largest brands to make Black Friday cost effective. It has also created the kind of feverish atmosphere where some brands appear to completely lose all sense of perspective.
In 2015, Singapore-based fashion brand SuperGurl widely shared a creative depicting a young woman alongside the words ‘Black Friday Sale’ and an incredibly crass call-to-action button which said: ‘Rape us now’.
It’s against that tasteless backdrop that some brands have opted to take the moral high ground when all about them are slashing prices in a desperate effort to carve out a slice of the pie.
If that’s the route you’re considering for your Black Friday campaigns, then you’re in the right place. Below you’ll find examples of five brands who shunned the usual tactics in favour of a more reserved, light-hearted approach.
Black Friday social media campaigns
Outdoor clothing company Patagonia joined up with environmental initiative One Percent for the Planet for their 2016 Black Friday activity. Agreeing to donate every cent of their Black Friday retail and online sales to organisations dedicated to clean water, air and soil, Patagonia drummed up $10 million worth of business on the day in question.
Led by the hashtag #loveourplanet, the campaign flourished precisely because it wasn’t what people were expecting. It also tapped into their conscience – particularly because they could still enjoy the excitement of making a purchase safe in the knowledge their spend would help to make the world a better place.
CEO Rose Marcario said: “We expected to reach $2 million in sales – we beat that expectation five times over. The enormous love our customers showed to the planet on Black Friday enables us to give every penny to hundreds of grassroots environmental organisations working around the world.”
Patagonia may have taken their anti-Black Friday lead from a fellow outdoor clothing brand. In 2015, REI encouraged consumers to forget about shopping and head to the great outdoors instead. The company set an example by closing its stores and suspending e-commerce, giving each of its 12,000 employees a paid day off.
The hashtag #OptOutside led to 1.4 million people pledging to do just that, and generated an incredible 1.2 billion social impressions. The campaign was so successful that REI repeated the trick in 2016.
Pieminister: Black Pie Day
It isn’t just large brands with huge social media followings who can reap rewards on Black Friday. If anything, SMEs can generate even greater relative reach – particularly if they partner with a larger brand and tap into their audience.
Pieminister – a UK pie shop – could have opted for a regular discount-led strategy for their Black Friday campaign (‘pie one get one free’, for instance). But instead they chose to give stock away in return for donations to a well-known homeless charity – thus giving them access to a much larger brand’s social audience.
In a project dubbed Black Pie Day, Pieminister opened up dozens of pop-up shops across the country, giving away surplus stock in return for donations to Shelter. They raised £3,600 for the charity, and found a genuinely worthwhile way to monetise stock they would otherwise have discounted or thrown away.
Hubbub: Bright Friday
If you’re going to rebel against Black Friday, your campaign will have a greater chance of success if you’ve got stats to back up your position.
Hubbub is a small UK charity that creates environmental campaigns, and they did their own research in the run-up to launching an alternative to Black Friday in 2016.
They found that two thirds of people don’t enjoy taking part in Black Friday, while half felt uncomfortable with the concept altogether. More worryingly, 45 per cent had spent money on something they couldn’t afford just because it was discounted, and 70 per cent bought sale items they’ve never used.
It was against this backdrop that Hubbub held a series of events over a weekend in Brighton, England, designed to give people other ways to spend Black Friday. Participants of ‘Bright Friday’ were invited to create new outfits from old ones, or borrow and swap fashion items with others.
Hubbub admits the initiative will be a slow-burner, but clearly hope to be part of a wider movement in which people rebel against Black Friday: “We hope that Brighton’s #BrightFriday activities will be the first of a series of community campaigns that will snowball throughout the country in subsequent years, creating an antidote to Black Friday’s consumerist message.”
Cards Against Humanity: $5 increase
Many companies would consider it commercial suicide, but one rebellious brand were so against the idea of discounting their products that they decided to actually increase their prices for the weekend.
The markers of Cards Against Humanity, a famously tasteless card game not to be played with older relatives, initially considered reducing their prices by $0.01 as a joke. Ultimately, though, they took a much riskier approach – putting an extra $5 on all their products.
Amazon were hesitant, but green-lit the price-rise and sat back incredulous as the card game’s sales actually increased year-on-year. The ‘sale’ was widely shared on Twitter and Tumblr, was the top post on Reddit and was widely covered in news outlets the world over.
Cards Against Humanity have since raised the stakes even further in their battle against consumerism.
In 2016 they invited online donors to contribute towards the cost of digging a huge hole in the ground for no reason whatsoever. The project, dubbed the ‘Holiday Hole’, saw online donors contribute more than $100,000 towards digging costs – with an online stream broadcasting the frivolous project.
“You’re supposed to think it’s funny,” said organisers in a blog post. “You might not get it for a while, but some time next year you’ll chuckle quietly to yourself and remember all this business about the hole.”
What have you got planned for Black Friday this year? Let us know in the comments below or by sharing this post.