I think I’d rather poke myself in the eye than get up early to stand in the cold and the dark outside Target in order to get a great deal on a laptop computer, a Magic Bullet, or [insert name of this year’s must-have item here]. I understand some people leave their Thanksgiving table early to attend an amazing sale at Kohl’s or Best Buy or wherever.
No thanks. A Kitchen-Aid mixer is not worth dying for, and the “crass materialism” of the whole thing is rather offensive.
But sometimes I wonder: what if I’m missing some unbelievable price on something I actually need or a gift on someone’s list? Wouldn’t it be worth giving Black Friday a try?
Seth Godin put my groundless fears to rest in this brief essay the artificiality and hype of Black Friday sales:
Black Friday was a deliberate invention of the National Association of Retailers. It was not only the perfect way to promote stores during a super slow news day, but had the side benefit of creating a new cultural norm.
Any media outlet that talks about Black Friday as an actually important phenomenon is either ignorant or working hard to please their advertisers. Retailers offer very little in the way of actual discounts, they expose human panic and greed, and it’s all sort of ridiculous if not soul-robbing.
Sixteen years ago, my friend Jerry Shereshewsky helped invent ‘cyber Monday’ as a further expansion of the media/shopping complex mania. It was amazingly easy to find people eager to embrace and talk about the idea of developing yet another holiday devoted to buying stuff.
Here are some of the steps involved in creating a marketing phenomena like this:
- Find something that people are already interested in doing (in this case, shopping)
- Add scarcity, mob dynamics, a bit of fear
- Repeat the meme in the media. Press releases, B roll, clever statistics regardless of veracity
- Do it on a slow news day, and mix in famous names, famous brands and even some hand-wringing about the plight of workers
Apple does this with its product launches. The IRS does the opposite of #1 around tax day. Nike sold a billion dollars worth of sneakers this way.
People like doing what other people are doing. People don’t like being left out. The media likes both.
Remember Veggie Tales? Their Christmas special lampooned holiday consumerism with a talking toy that intoned,
“Christmas is when you get stuff.”
Most of us enjoy going out and getting some “stuff” for ourselves and our loved ones at this time of year, but how necessary is it, or wise, to risk death-by-trampling in a Walmart?
 “All of us experience firsthand the sad effects of…blind submission to pure consumerism: in the first place, a crass materialism, and at the same time, a radical dissatisfaction, because one quickly learns…that the more one possesses the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled.” Pope John Paul II, On Social Concern (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis), December 30, 1987, no. 28