Like it or not, Christmas is right around the tinsel-clad corner.
The festivities are fast approaching and, over the last week or so, we’ve seen the passing of the event which truly kicks off the countdown to C-day – more so than the omnipresence of pumpkin spice, or even opening door one of your advent calendar.
The US-centric sales day, Black Friday, has been a long-standing tradition for our friends across the pond, having first hit the UK highstreets in 2013. Since then, the event – alongside the marketing tactics and language that brands use to advertise it – has developed and evolved way past brawling in the aisles over a new LED TV.
Shoppers got shrewd
Black Friday made its way to Britain five years ago, when Asda – owned by US retail giant Walmart – promised customers ‘Earth-shattering deals’ for ‘one day only’. It’s fair to say this brought out the worst in some bargain-seeking shoppers, with the flash sale reportedly causing commotion in supermarket aisles.
Many retailers were quick to jump on the Black Friday bandwagon in the years that followed, however it wasn’t long before shopper fatigue set in. By 2015, the nation was reluctant to be held hostage to a single day of deals, and brands were forced to apply a more flexible, creative approach.
Previously a high street-only campaign, Black Friday soon moved online and has become increasingly mobile focused – with customers quick to realise the queue-cutting, pyjama-wearing (no judgement here) benefits of a virtual trolley. The event got longer too, and though Friday often brings the best deals, many retailers will offer discounts for days in the run-up. This year saw almost half (49%) of online retailers already running promotions starting the previous Wednesday – with discounts spread over the weekend to Cyber-Monday (a term coined in 2005 to highlight the spike in online sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving).
The messaging around the event has softened too. Originally intended to whip shoppers into a frenzy – encouraging them to ‘act now’ and ‘don’t miss out’ on the ‘biggest ever deals’ – retailers are now using the discount days to connect with customers on a more personal level. The once-brash tone of advertising and urgent use of CTA is now more calm and collected.
Here are a few retailers whose campaigns stood out:
Argos decided to capitalise on the nation’s favourite pastime to advertise its bargains – videos of cats. On its website, the catalogue giant streamed footage of cute kittens playing amongst its electrical goods and pet range. Mark Steel, digital director, said: “We know that Black Friday can feel a little overwhelming for some people as they search for the best deals, so we took this opportunity to offer a calming solution in the midst of what is, for many, a shopping frenzy.” How thoughtful.
The official line from upmarket department store, Selfridges, was an eschewing of Black Friday – with the intent to focus on a Boxing Day sale. However, it did run a ‘Christmas Comes Early’ campaign – offering 20% off selected lines online and in-store – which just happened to fall on the widely recognised day of discounts.
ASOS opted to utilise Snapchat’s new Promoted Stories advertising format to display its offerings. The format allows brands to string together three to 10 photos and videos into a longer form ad on the Stories page, and it’s then shown to all users in a specific country (not just the brand’s followers). ASOS showcased its ‘night-out-worthy’ looks, promoting a 20% discount via a promotion code.
Restaurant-booking platform OpenTable homed in on shoppers feeling the stress of frantic sales shopping, with a ‘shopping pop-up’ at Scoff & Banter tea rooms near Oxford Circus. To avoid shopper’s burnout, bargain hunters could book an afternoon tea slot, with each dining table having its own an iPad, so cucumber sandwich nibblers could browse in comfort. The pop-up also treated guests to a free bottle of prosecco for afternoon tea bookings for two. That fizzy pre-weekend treat can’t have promoted rational decision for shoppers deciding whether or not they really needed those new boots.
With shoppers becoming more resilient to impulse shopping – using the discount day as a means to obtain specific Christmas gifts, and knowing they are the ones holding the (credit) cards – the days of aggressive Black Friday sales are certainly numbered. Opting for a more creative approach with any campaign, instead trying to shout the loudest when it’s evident consumers are already wearing earplugs, does of course hold an element of risk. However, the above examples simply show brands injecting a little fun into their campaigns, or refusing to jeopardise brand reputation for the sake of a one-day extravaganza.
The key message is that these days, people don’t want to be sold to – but to be engaged. They already know that they’ll be able to save money – so when Black Friday rears its head again in 2018, why should they choose to spend their hard-earned cash with your brand?