For those who look forward every year to Black Friday, perhaps going out with family and friends, this event has become watered down with Grey Thursday and Cyber Monday. No wonder sales are down when we diminish the day. Black Friday has become eclipsed by a shopping season that unfortunately starts on Thanksgiving Day and extends until the day after Christmas.
Just as significant as the loss of ritual, brands themselves were generally disappointing this Black Friday, especially in terms of their social outreach and behavior. A few standouts demonstrated interesting approaches to promoting both sales and themselves. Even fewer used the ritual to connect with customers in important ways.
Ranked #1 in our brand intimacy rankings, Apple stepped out of its own comfort zone to heavily promote its support of the (RED) initiative on World AIDS day. For a brand that is known both for minimal holiday sales and not promoting its CSR efforts, this was quite notable. By highlighting singular cause (AIDS), Apple delivered a sharp and focused message. Just as interesting, Apple chose to lead with a cause vs. a shopping/sales message on the busiest shopping day of the year, again demonstrating how it continues to lead.
Unlike Apple, Patagonia is well known for its corporate responsibility philosophy of regularly rethinking its supply chain, manufacturing processes, distribution, and marketing for the benefit of the planet and its population. Rather than the expected—donating a percentage of Black Friday purchases to worthy causes—the brand sent out e-mails promoting the “Patagonia Worn Wear Swap” through a promotion with Yerdle stores on Friday. This encouraged customers to bring Patagonia clothes they were no longer using to the store in exchange for Yerdle credits. Free food, refreshments, and music were provided. This event demonstrated that the brand cared about people as much as it cared about sales during this promotion period.
A different, more corporate standout is Target. Beginning with being in the Harlem store Thursday night, Target’s CEO, Brian Cornell, was seemingly everywhere during Black Friday—interviewed on CNBC, ringing in the NYSE opening bell—giving the impression that from the top down, Black Friday was being monitored carefully, a welcome change after Target’s credit card breach scandal and a seemingly silent leadership response. While Target’s brand communications were lackluster and sales dominated, an extremely visible and involved CEO was notable.