Many of us who were brave enough to step into any kind of store on the 28th November 2014 were greeted with sheer mayhem and anarchy. The effects of the strain of the current economy on many households were on display for the entire public to see. Fellow human beings battled over discounted flat screen TV’s, kettles and other hardware, whilst many others queued for hours to grab the best clothes at a bargain price before they were all gone. But from the warmth of my house and the convenience of shopping from my laptop, I did start to wonder, when did all of this start?
Black Friday, as most people know is originally an American tradition that occurs annually the day after Thanksgiving, where stores offer their products at heavily discounted prices. (I always found it ironic that people would trample over complete strangers for cheap stuff just a day after apparently being thankful for what they already have! But I digress). The name originates from the idea that throughout the rest of the year businesses operate at a loss, and are thus always in the red. However, on this particular day immediately following Thanksgiving, businesses operate in the black because of the huge profit they make, hence resulting in the term, “Black Friday”. (How comforting to see the colour black being associated with something positive for a change – but I digress again!)
Whilst Black Friday has been entrenched in American society for years now, the idea is only in its infancy in the UK, having first made its appearance onto these shores in 2013. But with the buzz around the sales this year and the decision from more UK stores to take part in it, how did this American pastime diffuse so quickly into our British culture? And why?
Social media, the great change enabler.
Before the internet, every country was isolated within their own borders, confined to their own cultures, traditions and holidays without really having a way of exploring other cultures other than physically travelling to said countries themselves. But with the Internet and the explosion of social media platforms, came increased communication, more sharing and a breakdown of geographical and international borders. People, (especially the youth) now find it easier than ever before to discover a plethora of differing cultures and traditions, resulting in increased choice and a more informed decision as to whether or not they choose to embrace and infuse other cultures into their own.
This is the reason, I believe, why a long-standing American tradition like Black Friday has proved to so successful in the UK so far.
Reversal of fortune
Another intriguing fact I found about Black Friday is its sheer ability to bring people into stores in their numbers, despite the sale not being as established among UK consumers as it is with our American cousins. Consumers and shops alike will tell you that more and more people are choosing to shop online rather than visiting their stores, with high street stores in particular feeling the brunt of this shift in consumer behaviour. However, in spite of the online shopping trends, the risk to human health, the bitterness of the freezing cold weather AND the fact that Black Friday sales were also happening online (i.e. there was an alternative), thousands of Brits still chose to go out and experience the drama for themselves.
The power of strong marketing can be the only explanation for this seemingly bizarre reversal of online behaviours to the good old days of sales shopping. People, whether they would like to admit it or not, always want to be among the first people to have or experience something they perceive to be positive. Many times we have seen images of people who camp for days and nights to get the latest iPhone, or people who spend a fortune to keep up with the latest fashion trends. There has always been a sense of prestige in being the first rather than the last person to catch onto something good, and the same rule applies here. Because even though it would be safer and make more sense to just participate in the sales online, (or make more financial sense to just not participate in the sales at all), being seen as an early adopter of certain well packaged changes says a lot about one’s prestige. This in turn says a lot about the power of clever and appropriate marketing of a change innovation as more valuable than the status quo it replaces, so as to engage widespread interest and subsequent adoption of the change.
That is the power of marketing.
So what has the phenomenon that is Black Friday UK 2014 taught us? Three things:
- That rapid change in behaviour can be stimulated by various developing technologies such as social media,
- That no behaviour is set in stone.
- That powerful marketing can be used to reinvent a product, showcase the comparative advantage of the new reinvention to the status quo and thus provide the catalyst to alter behaviours and stimulate a rapid diffusion of the change into people, culture and behaviours.
Ebony is a recent 2:1 law graduate from the University of East Anglia. Passionate about marketing and sports, she is currently writing a book on business transformation change lessons from the World Cup 2014. She is also a sports writer at ebonylovessports.blogspot.co.uk