(American Marketing Association) / Alter Agents

Why Black Friday Will Continue to Fail Marketers … and Customers

November 24, 2015

Why Black Friday Will Continue to Fail Marketers...and Customers

Black Friday is a remnant of the “Old Economy” shopping experience: a sales and marketing tradition whose time has come and gone. Here’s what the future of holiday shopping–and shopping in general– depends on now.
With an ever greater number of channels to reach consumers, brands have never had a better opportunity to present themselves. Especially on social media, brand marketers strive to present brands as authentic people with personalities. Consumers, however, are not dumb. Increasingly savvy to the role of advertising in their lives, potential customers can be easily turned off by phony attempts at authenticity.

Take, for example, the mother of all sales promotions: Black Friday. Never mind the whole concept is so last century, when retail was the only shopper’s experience. Today, a shopper can get the best deal online, avoid the crowds and have her package delivered to her door–or her gift recipients’. The mad stamped to retail is not only unnecessary, but a crude display of the worst of our consumerism culture.

Beyond the sheer inconvenience of Black Friday, the strict borders that once defined it have dissipated. To combat the rise of online shopping, stores have started trying to preempt the date with ‘leaks,’ ‘early birds,’ and even Thanksgiving Day sales. All of these tactics only help to alienate the shopper. By extending the event and one-upping the competition, the consumer suffers from an over-exposure and doesn’t benefit from any additional savings. Not to mention the moral-laden backlash against being open on Thanksgiving day: see praise for REI’s recent decision.

All this speaks of trying too hard to reach your audience and reeks of phoniness. Black Friday is emblematic of this phenomenon, but it happens throughout the year. Online communities have popped up to mock brands that appear falsely “authentic.” @BrandsSayingBae on Twitter and in r/FellowKids, a section of popular social media site Reddit, exist to document and poke fun at brands attempting to use millennial slang and Internet culture to sell their products. On Tumblr, a blog called “Tells Us Your Story” documents companies attempt to solicit customer stories, like a laundry brand’s disastrous request for “Bleachable Moments.”

If authenticity, or rather attempts to mimic it, is too risky of a market strategy, what can brands do to be successful? I suggest a strategy of “brand realness.” Your brand is not a person, but it does have a personality. By focusing on the parts of your brand that consumers do care about and relate to, you can bring out the real passion in your core users.

This also presents a real opportunity for smaller brands with a pitch that’s based on values. There’s a reason that Peet’s Coffee & Tea recently purchased hip brands Intelligentsia and Stumptown, and it’s not just because their coffee is delicious. Peet’s is banking on the ability of these brands to speak to their customers directly, because these brands are not just about taste, but about aligning with customers’ values. These values come across as real to consumers because they are built into the fabric of the brand in a way that larger brands struggle to emulate.

Black Friday is a remnant of the “Old Economy” shopping experience: a sales and marketing tradition whose time has come and gone. The future of holiday shopping, and shopping in general, depends on connecting with the shopper on a value proposition not based on a bargain but on a transparent, honest, “real” relationship.

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