Black Friday, Social Media and Public Relations


Consumerism has always been a part of the American Culture.  Back in 1939, at the request of the retail industry, President Roosevelt actually moved Thanksgiving a week earlier to accommodate the needs of the large retail stores.  That idea did not last very long and two years later, Thanksgiving was moved back to its original day.  Over the years, stores have called the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday.  The day when their accounts move to the positive for the year.  The real meaning of Black Friday goes back to Philadelphia and an annual football game which caused so much gridlock on the streets of the city, it was called Black Friday.  In 1961, retailers in the city tried, but failed to rename the day Big Friday.  That name didn’t take, but retailers and public relations experts co-opted the name for their own purposes; thus Black Friday was born.  Thanks to the ingenuity of the public relations and marketing teams of major retailers, Black Friday is now seen as the largest shopping day of the year with the biggest discounts and the biggest crowds.

Over the years, Black Friday has gotten bigger.  Yes, retailers have always offered great promotions, but in the past few years, it has started to get out of hand.  The culmination of this need to make money resulted in this years Black Friday events.  It started slowly; a Christmas commercial airing here or there in late August or September.  Some niche television networks beginning to promote their holiday programming line-ups.  Then in the second week of September, it started.  Kmart aired its first Christmas commercial.  October began to see more commercials geared toward the upcoming holiday season, almost ignoring Halloween all together. The Hallmark Channel began non-stop promotion of its Christmas movie line-up in late September and throughout October.  They took their regular programming off the air November 2 to begin airing Christmas and Holiday themed movies for two full months.  Anyone looking for their daily dose of Lucy or The Golden Girls or Frasier were in for quite a surprise.

The day after Halloween, retailers were already decorating for Christmas.  Some stores were decorating even before Halloween arrived.  Malls had decked the halls on that first weekend of November and haven’t looked back since.  The first nationwide Christmas sale was also that first weekend of November.  As the days began counting down in earnest toward a late Thanksgiving, there began a frenzy in the retail world.  Then it happened:  Retail giants Macy’s, Sears, JC Penny, Kmart, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, Gap, and Old Navy, among others,  announced they would be opening on Thanksgiving.  Not just at midnight as they had done on previous years, but ON Thanksgiving.  Store hours ranged from opening at 7am Thanksgiving to opening at 8pm Thanksgiving night.  And, that is when social media blew-up.

In the aftermath of these retailers announcing their openings on Thanksgiving, one of only three days most retailers are Thanksgiving protesttraditionally closed, the protests began.  Facebook led the way with meme’s such as; “I’m not shopping on Thanksgiving Day,” and  “I pledge not to shop on Thanksgiving.  If I’m shopping, that means someone else is working and not spending time with their family.  Everyone deserves a holiday.”  Meme’s and stickers like these went rampant all over Facebook.  There were essays and blog posts as well about shopping on Thanksgiving Day. To say social media was in an uproar would be an understatement.  Yet, for every three people who said they were bothered by this trend of stores opening on Thanksgiving, there were people who were happy.  Anecdotal evidence, culled from Facebook posts suggested that those who wanted to shop on Thanksgiving were becoming more and more defensive and could not see anything wrong with it.  Common comments about shopping were:  “At least they will get holiday pay and extra hours.”, “Not everyone has a family.”, “Nurses and police officers have to work, so why not retail workers.”   Unfortunately, in the polarized world of ideology we live in, there was no common ground and no coming together in an attempt to see the other’s point of view.

The bigger problem was not the consumer, it was the retailer themselves.  In interview after interview, the public faces of retailers kept repeating the line that “employees are happy to work on Thanksgiving,” and “we will be serving them dinner as well.”  Retailers made huge PR mistakes this year in dealing with the backlash of their plans to open on one of the most important holidays in this country.  Not only did they say employees were happy to work, they also said their consumers demanded it.  But, who’s leading who on?  If the retailers didn’t open, consumers wouldn’t be any wiser.  There were a slew of retailers that refused to open on Thanksgiving, including; Costco, Nordstrom, BJ’s, The Christmas Tree Shops,  and Menard’s.  There were a few others as well, but they were in the minority.

In the end, Black Friday and Grey Thursday (as some have started to call it) turned out to be a dud.  Retailers did not perform as well as they had expected.  An inside source close to one specialty clothing store told me none of the stores in the region reached the sales plan put in place by corporate.  There a myriad of reasons why Black Friday 2013 will go down in history as a bust.  Retailers offered deep discounts and promotions leading up to Thanksgiving.  Maybe a lot of people stayed home and shopped online.  In the end, the failure can be traced to two or three sources:  The marketing department, the public relations department and the stores as a whole.  Retailers attempted to take away a sacred holiday from the people of this country.  Although many people shopped, maybe, just maybe the thought of forsaking family tradition for a new television wasn’t enough.


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