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Brands Are Ditching Black Friday, and It May Be Their Best Move

Jan 12, 2021

“Cancel culture” is the new wave of boycotting. When a celebrity says something harmful, a brand is found to engage in unsustainable practices, or skinny jeans imprison us in suffocating fabric, people are speaking up and showing how they feel using the most precious currency— their time, their attention, and their dollar.

Even though one of the biggest strategies consumers use to cancel someone or something is putting their money elsewhere, winning a “cancel” war is a slog. The “victims” of cancel culture are still overwhelmingly rich, successful, and famous. However, the core of “cancel culture” isn’t about destroying anything. 

It’s more about holding powerful people and businesses accountable. And really who can’t benefit from an extra helping of accountability these days? 

As the internet enables many of us to stand up against seemingly ingrained institutions, it’s becoming less common for people to stick with the status quo and put up with things because “that’s just how it’s always been.” 

Plus, it’s not just individuals who are diverting their money and time away from unsavory traditions. Brands are getting in on the action, too.

Embracing Empathy Over Dollars  

More brands than ever are embracing the idea that many things matter more than making a quick buck, and they’re upholding their values instead of playing into big-dollar marketing traditions.

Looking past the record-breaking sales and shipments this past holiday season, another trend was becoming pretty darn clear: Canceling Black Friday.

What used to start the morning after Thanksgiving has crept into the days preceding the holiday—as well as the day itself. People have been choosing to forego family time and their own traditions in favor of getting bargains. Giving up rare time to make memories and share experiences with family just to save few bucks, though, doesn’t jive with the values of many modern brands. Which is why they’re starting to do something about it.  

In 2015, and in the years since, REI famously boycotted Black Friday with their #OptOutside campaign. Instead of cashing in on one of the most popular shopping days of the year, they close down their stores and encourage their customers to spend time outdoors instead.

In 2020, brands are doing even more to boycott the traditional consumerist free-for-all. Eco-conscious footwear brand Allbirds actually raised their prices by $1 on Black Friday, with each additional dollar donated to Greta Thunberg’s climate strike movement Fridays for Future. 

Swedish furniture brand IKEA used Black Friday this year to launch a buy-back program to promote circular economies as a strategy against climate action. 

These brands—and many more—are canceling Black Friday, and it may be their smartest move yet. 

The Ultimate Brand Strategy: Sticking to Your Values

Good experience: Spending time with your family (even if it’s just you and cat), sipping cocoa, binging your favorite show, and knowing that your favorite brand will have what you need at a great price over the next few days.

Bad experience: Ditching quality time with your family to stand, for hours, in an endless line for a chance to maybe save a few bucks on a TV—all while having to endure rude, stressed strangers, inclement weather, and holiday anxiety.

Brands founded on the idea of making life better for its customers can’t reconcile making shoppers endure the bad experiences to get their goods. Instead, why not make it easier for shoppers to have the good experiences with their brand, even if that means sacrificing the year’s shopping climax? Especially in a time where modern consumers are making more shopping decisions based on experience instead of price.

For this to work, opting out of Black Friday requires messaging in a way that makes sense for their brand. Allbirds and REI were able to pull this off because their products were already made of organic materials and promote outdoor recreation, and their messaging surrounds environmental activism (and less consumerism). 

A brand like REI knows its core audience—people who care less about material items and more about experiences, especially outdoors. Encouraging their customers to defy their own personal values in order to make a buck just didn’t harmonize, so REI put its hiking boots-clad foot down.

A smart play for many brands in 2020 would have been to cancel shopping in stores to protect their employees and customers from exposure to the coronavirus pandemic. Shoppers in North America and Europe said that their top priority in a purpose-driven brand is employee safety, so opting out of Black Friday marketing mayhem would have been a good move to bolster image and loyalty.

An environment-focused tactic wouldn’t work for brands that compete with these values. It would feel off-putting for a gas-guzzling truck company to say they care about the environment so they won’t hold a Black Friday sale. It would also be strange for Amazon to say they care about their worker, so they’ll take Black Friday off after repeated reports of worker neglect and mistreatment (especially if they don’t cancel Prime Day). This is why messaging is so important.RULE OF THUMBIf canceling your brand’s Black Friday event would resonate with shoppers and create more loyalty from customers sharing the same values, this could be just the right time for you to “cancel” the day.

When Canceling Black Friday Is More Lucrative

For those brands that can successfully pull off going against Black Friday, they can reap massive benefits. REI experienced a 7000% increase in social impressions and over 2.7 billion media impressions from their first campaign in just the first 24 hours, according to data from Sprout Social. 

Additionally, their hashtag has grown into a social movement since its inception — used 156,000 times in 2015, the hashtag was used 11.6 million times in 2019. And customers love it — 91% of the posts were positive. 

Is It Time for You to Cancel Black Friday?

While the 2020 holiday shopping season is over, now could be the right time for your store to start strategizing for Black Friday 2021: to be or not to be?

If bowing out of Black Friday madness aligns with your brand’s and your customer’s values, these campaigns will only improve the customer experience. Customer loyalty will increase through these campaigns because of the positive association they have with shopping with a purpose-driven brand the other 364 days of the year will outweigh the single-day benefits of a massive sale one day a year.

Media attention and social media interaction can soar when these campaigns are done well and the messaging is just right, causing the benefits to last long beyond the season. With customer experience at the forefront of buying decisions today, could this be the year your brand creates the best customer experience and cancels Black Friday? 

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