Black Friday 2016: A Creative Review

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Black Friday is a very modern phenomenon. A true triumph of commercialism, it's a perfectly placed date in the cultural calendar that gained so much attention a few years ago that South Park deemed it necessary to construct a feature-length episode around it! But where did it comes from? Does it really matter? And, perhaps more pertinently for our purposes, is there any scope for creative excellence therein? Let's explore shall we.

Whilst it's only really entered the popular consciousness in the UK over the last few years, Black Friday has actually been a 'thing' across the pond in the US since the early nineties. Always falling on the first Friday after Thanksgiving, it was essentially the Boxing Day Sales on crack. In the states, it's positioning makes sense as it's the first day after the last big holiday before Christmas, therefore making it kind of the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season. Over here, meanwhile, it makes no real sense at all. We just jumped on the bandwagon.

Even so, it's here to stay now for the foreseeable future, and, as you would expect, the creative industries have jumped on it with great gusto with increasing intensity since 2014, when UK-based retailers first cottoned on to the idea. Here I've managed to collate a few of the stories from 2016 that caught my eye and it would appear that, this year at least, the creative seems heavily weighted towards the cynical and the satirical, which always tends to happen after a fad has been around for a while. So read on. And good luck out there in those sales. Just don't get carried away!



Wieden+Kennedy London Rams Black Friday's Shopageddon Right Into Your Eyes


As the actual shops can get a little crazy on Black Friday, and shopping on computers, although convenient, doesn’t have the same excitement, Wieden+Kennedy London, who developed this satirical web-VR experience using a-frame.io, and populated it with products via a public API, have taken the worst of the digital and physical worlds and merged them together, right on your face. Just strap-on a VR headset and you’re all set. To enter Shopageddon, type http://shopageddon.biz into your mobile browser and you’ll be transported into the shopping world of the future. If you have a pair of VR goggles, hit the button that looks like a pair of VR goggles, insert your phone, and get ready. Your retinas are about to experience an onslaught of consumer goods. You’ll be given the opportunity to purchase the products you’ve looked at the longest at the end of your experience. But don’t worry, your eyeballs aren’t linked to a click-less purchase just yet.

We built this odd shopping experience as a rough proof of concept and there’s only one moment appropriate to launch such an OTT idea” Iain Tait, ECD at W+K


MyVoucherCodes sends up Black Friday thugs

Whilst most Black Friday activations in the past have tended towards the generic, this year we appear to be seeing more comedic work. Enter this spot from Frank PR for MyVoucherCodes, which introduces the character of Gary 'Chopper Shopper' Sykes and his brother Harry. It's a mockumentary style clip that perfectly sends up the insanity of Black Friday by looking at a day in the life of Gary as he prepares for the biggest day of his year. The video shows how Gary gets his deals, detailing that you need to be able to take bumps and bruises and wake up at the crack of dawn to get your purchases before the rest of the world even wakes from its slumber. However, Gary is stuck in the old school, a frankly scary time before the ubiquity of online shopping and express delivery. His brother Harry, meanwhile, has retired from the rag tag world of professional shopping, and explains just how easy it is to find the best deals and discounts using online shopping.


Isobel capture the plight of women in heels for Hammerson Black Friday sale

Advertising agency isobel have created a new spot to promote the Black Friday Sale across Hammerson's nationwide portfolio of shopping centres, which includes Brent Cross, Bullring and Victoria Leeds. Written and directed by isobel’s Ben Stump and Simon Findlater, the spot captures the plight of various women struggling to go about their daily lives while wearing some beautiful heels. The ad is paid off by a strap line telling us that designer heels are also included in the sale.


giffgaff make Black Friday last all year with their Savings Calendar


Hoping to draw attention away from the mad shopping hoards, giffgaff money have gone in the opposite direction by putting together the ultimate yearly saving’s calendar, showing consumers what they can buy at a discount price whatever the month, not just around Black Friday. Using in-depth research from consumer spending reports and data analysis from annual sale trends, this campaign is set up to help the nation save money all year. From household staples like food, to sports equipment and cars, the Savings Calendar considers all the essentials and luxuries, pinpointing what months are best to buy specific goods, and revealing how waiting just a few weeks could lead to huge savings each month.


Patagonia donate 100% of its sales on Black Friday to the environment


Patagonia, the outdoor clothing retailer, plans to donate 100% of its sales on Black Friday to the environment. The company will donate that money to small grassroots organisations that fight for clean water, air and soil. It will work with One Percent For The Planet, an environmental non-profit network, to get the funds to the grassroots organisation. Patagonia has already committed to donating 1 percent of its sales (so far that's totalled $74 million) to the environment. But this year, they felt it was important to go further and connect more of their customers, who love wild places, with those who are fighting tirelessly to protect them. Earlier this month Patagonia shuttered its retail locations, headquarters and distribution centres to encourage its employees and consumers to vote for a candidate that would make a commitment to the environment. With the latest effort Patagonia will also provide its consumers with information in its stores and on its website about how they can get involved with the environmental groups in their communities.

As people think generously about family and friends, we also want our customers to show love to the planet, which badly needs a gift or two” Patagonia CEO, Rose Marcario


World’s biggest fashion site, Lyst, shows us how NOT to be a Black Friday sheep


Black Friday is not only the single biggest shopping day of the year, it’s the day sheep-shoppers suddenly appear en masse as they seek out that dream bargain. But sheep-shopping is baaaad (sorry), at least according to Lyst; the world’s biggest online fashion site. In fact, Lyst believes sheep-shopping is bleeting crazy and to ‘ram’ the message home sent a flock of Welsh reared Sussex sheep to meet fellow sheep-shoppers on London’s Oxford Street; the UK’s busiest shopping destination. While it turns out sheep and sheep-shoppers have plenty in common; the endless queuing, horrendous weather, manhandling, short tempers, nervous dispositions, cattle-class travel etc; there is an alternative, smarter way to cash in on the same deals without following the crowds. Lyst CMO, Christian Wool-fenden said: “Heading to the high-street this Black Friday? What the flock are you thinking? We’re not pulling the wool over your eyes on this one. Lyst is the only place where you can genuinely beat Black Friday with all the sales from all the retailers collated in one place.” I think they went a little heavy on the puns here, but I'll forgive them in this case. And I wouldn't want to pull the wool over their eyes.


Creative Opinions

Lab's Justin Thorne, Toby Kesterton and Tom Head offer their expertise ahead of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.


As more consumers choose the comfort of the home over crowded stores, online eCommerce sales on Black Friday reach new all-time highs for each year that passes by. Last year, shoppers spent $4.45 billion online, according to Adobe. As if Black Friday wasn’t enough to think about; next up for online retailers is Cyber Monday, which is widely known to be the largest online shopping day of the year. The neuromarketing specialists at Lab turned to their Directors and senior staff to have them answer the question all retailers simply can’t ignore: How do you make your eCommerce site ready for the shopping weekend of the year?

Justin Thorne, Head of Strategy & Performance Marketing

Whilst Black Friday has developed into an online phenomenon, my advice is to go back to its physical retail roots and to get the analogue elements absolutely right. If your logistics can't support a run on your products, or your site can't cope with the load, Black Friday is a great way to undo all the trust you've built up with customers all year around. Massive backlogs in processing orders, stock issues and site crashes are not your customers' problem. Remarkably, we still see marketing departments working in a silo, deploying fantastic offers for consumers in all that noise, but they forget to make sure the folk in the bricks and mortar, and the basements, are also on red alert.

Toby Kesterton, Client Account Director

I would predict the trend will continue from a “Black Friday” day expanding to a “Black Friday” week. A quick checklist of things to consider:

  • Paid search plan - A paid search campaign to support your Black Friday offers needs contingency planning for a number of reasons, such as a spike in traffic.

  • Marketing banners - Get content created and ready to go.

  • Load testing - Re-test for higher traffic loads.

  • Out of stock messaging - Test contingencies in advance.

Tom Head, Sales & Marketing Director

My advice would be:

  1. Check your website imagery and campaign headlines across channels. Do they stand out and will they get attention amongst all the noise?

  2. Have you configured up-sells and associated products particularly for the most purchased items? This is an area where you can significantly increase revenue by presenting the right choices to the consumer.

  3. Create a content campaign that delivers value to your consumers. This could be around the perfect way to wrap a present, or writing a thank you note or travelling during the holiday period. As a consumer, if you can connect emotionally and enhance my experience I'm going to be much more likely to purchase from you over the competition.


Rob Coke, Group Strategy Director at Studio Output, believes that the adoption of commercial trends from across the Atlantic is nothing new, and the pervasiveness of Black Friday isn’t just laughably dumb, it’s robbing the British of our true identity; as violent drunks. 


As I left for work this morning, my wonderful wife tore herself away from her phone to ask a question loaded with hidden meaning. “Do we need anything from Black Friday today?” My reply was an emphatic, “No!” But as I walked to the station, my body buffeted by Storm Angus, my mind was pounded by wave after wave of doubt. ‘Do we need anything from Black Friday? Christmas is terrifyingly close and I haven’t thought of anything expensive enough to demonstrate the depth of love I have for my family. We can’t be foolish enough to think we’ll make it through a school holiday alive without a new games console, can we? And be honest – that ear hair trimmer isn’t going to buy itself.' 

Insidious power - This is the insidious power of Black Friday. The power to sow seeds of materialist doubt in the most resolute minds in Britain. And who wouldn’t crumble? For years now, the biggest celebrations in the calendar have been adopted as opportunities to spend money: Valentine’s Day, Hallowe’en, Grandparents’ Day. Each glorious event forever associated in the mind with the need to buy more stuff. Why should Black Friday be any different? It’s the day after Thanksgiving, for goodness' sake! Who are you to tell me I shouldn’t be spending my working day hunting for deals? It’s nothing short of un-British to suggest that a normal working day which comes after another normal working day that means nothing to us whatsoever should be anything other than an excuse to buy cheap electrical goods. Haven’t you heard? We’ve had enough of ‘experts’!

Dubious origins - But this is the thing. It’s not for us at all. It has absolutely no relevance outside the US, and even there, its origins are highly dubious. Ignoring the claim that it’s related to slave trading – which the excellent Snopes has squarely debunked – there are three main theories into the birth of the name ‘Black Friday’.

1.  It was seen as a dark day for employers, whose staff would take a sick day to bridge the gap between Thanksgiving Thursday and create a four-day weekend.

2.  It was a negative term used by Philadelphia police to describe the traffic and mayhem caused by everyone heading downtown to do their shopping at the same time.

3.  It was the point in the year where retailers start to make a profit, going from ‘in the red’ to ‘in the black’ in their sales ledgers.

So for Americans at least, that provides a clear reason to celebrate Black Friday – a day when everyone bunks off work to get stuck in traffic and line the pockets of department stores everywhere. What’s not to like? In the UK though, there’s not even the pretence of anything behind it. It’s just an ever-growing cavalcade of deals to try and co-erce people into prising open their wallets in hope that, once open, they’ll get into the Christmas spirit and keep spending. And we’re diving in head-first – desperately grabbing ‘must-haves’ we don’t need for people that don’t care.

Damaging for brands - At a time when money is scarce, this is dangerous – but it’s also damaging for the brands themselves. A powerful brand is one that is distinct. Whether it’s one that’s well positioned and differentiated is increasingly up for debate, but one thing we can agree on is that a distinct brand should stand out from the rest. In his excellent talks series, Mark Ritson makes the point that sales promotions weaken brands by commoditising them. If brand power is about creating a premium through scarcity and desirability, then mass availability at huge discounts will only diminish it. One beacon standing out amongst all of this is the ever-thoughtful Patagonia. True to their idea of Don’t buy this racket, they’re donating 100% of Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental groups. But few brands are principled or bold enough to do something like this, so they follow the crowd. Nobody wants to get left behind, so British brands are mindlessly jumping on the bandwagon, chasing a decreasing pot of money in a race to the bottom of the discount warehouse. 

Losing our identity - But do you know the worst thing about the UK’s adoption of Black Friday? We actually already have our own version here. Originally named by the emergency services, it’s the last Friday before Christmas, when everyone follows the tradition of packing up work and getting on the booze with reckless abandon. Professional and amateur drinkers, cheek-by-jowl, fist-to-face and face-on-pavement, causing carnage to high streets and A&E departments across this great nation.

So I ask this question of my fellow Britons: have we lost the true meaning of Black Friday?

Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.


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