What is Black Friday and how is it impacting the advertising industry?
If you have listened to the radio, watched TV or browsed the web in the month of November, you have heard about Black Friday. For the last couple of years (yes, it's that recent in Belgium), it is the absolute marketing buzzword of the month of November. It is used all over the place, in all contexts and industries. But what is it really? Ask around and people will tell you that it is an American marketing trend to sell more more more, coming from the USA. But is that all there is to it?
Black Friday: where does it come from?
There are several explanations to the meaning of Black Friday. Tucked halfway between Halloween and Christmas, Black Friday always takes place at the same time: on the Friday that follows the fourth Thursday of November. But what makes it black? Some say that it describes the terrible amount of car and foot traffic to and around stores on that day, others say that this highly profitable sales day allows to use black ink in the balance sheet (as opposed to red).
I am not satisfied with this explanation. Unfortunately, when american traditions hit the European continent, they are often qualified as pure commercial practices (which they are), and stripped from their actual meaning and origin. What is interesting is not the meaning of ‘Black’ ‘Friday’, but the reason behind the commercial success of this special day.
In the USA, the holiday season follows a specific sequence. We begin with Halloween on October 31st, marking the middle of fall, and the season of pumpkin soup (delicious !). Then we start planning for Thanksgiving, the biggest feast of the year. Thanksgiving is also often misunderstood. In a nutshell, Thanksgiving is a century old tradition linked to the American history which has evolved into the biggest yearly family gathering in the United States, and the informal kickoff of the holiday season (Christmas songs and decorations typically only show up right after Thanksgiving). The celebration is a Federal holiday that falls on a Thursday. The following Friday has historically been a very strong (if not the strongest) day in terms of sales in the USA as families begin their Christmas shopping.
Black Friday: why is it so commercial?
The answer is quite simple. As stores and retailers grew aware of the importance of Black Friday in terms of sales, marketing tactics started to appear. Stores would advertise crazy promotions to act as ‘doorbusters’ in order to draw people in, hoping that once inside, they would expand some of their shopping, and increase their basket value. Over the years, there has been a huge competition between stores’ doorbuster promotions. Some customers would comically camp outside of stores in order to guarantee their chance to buy half price electronics.
Black Friday: does it make sense?
Although thanksgiving is not a tradition followed in Europe, the end of November does mark the beginning of the ‘end of year’ shopping season as well. Doorbusters are often less intriguing than in the USA as local regulations (in Belgium for example) don’t allow the same level of discounting as for our transatlantic friends. That being said, it is an opportunity for stores to manage inventory without waiting for the sales season in January. Even though there is no rationale of focusing on the last Friday of November, the concept seems to have taken roots.
Black Friday’s popularity in Europe has risen alongside the popularity of online shopping. E-commerce stores advertise heavily about Black Friday, despite the fact that Black Friday is originally a brick and mortar retail approach. The biggest online shopping day in the USA has a different name: Cyber Monday (the Monday that follows black Friday). There is a little bit of a mixup but who am I to complain, black Friday just might be my biggest shopping day of the year.