Bad, Black Branding

This month Rich With is troubled by branding. And the soul of the nation…

Traditionally the last payday before Christmas (and the day after Thanksgiving), Black Friday is an American tradition where amazing bargains were available across the shopping world. Over the last few years we’ve seen more and more outlandish behaviour from US citizens as they attempt to gain a bargain to the point that people are now being killed over a cut-price offer.

black friday

Here in the UK, Black Friday has traditionally been something that is available online – Amazon put in a bit of effort over the last few years, but most retailers didn’t really get involved.

All this changed in 2014 as many retailers decided to boost their coffers by ‘creating’ Black Friday events. Some reluctantly – John Lewis claimed they only took part as they are ‘never knowingly undersold’ while others (Asda or UK WalMart, we’re looking at you) decided to extend the sale over the whole weekend.

In branding terms Black Friday is something of an enigma. It’s taken on a life of its own – being utilised by individuals and institutions to adopt, mould, shape, and utilise it as they see fit. In essence it’s the purest form of branding – with its own persona, belief system and ethos. Rightly or wrongly Black Friday is seen as a sale where anything goes, huge crowds, bad attitude and even violence are seen as part of the package and to be expected wherever there is a Black Friday event.

So when it came to these shores, was it deemed acceptable to behave in a manner that would otherwise be alien to us? If anyone was ever in doubt of the power of branding they only have to look at the behaviour of UK shoppers on the day. Black Friday has the craziest prices so expect the craziest behaviour. We’d been seduced into thinking this is the correct way to act – that it was an acceptable part of the spirit of the day.

Crushes, fights and aggression. Anecdotal evidence as people refused to believe various sale items had sold out and stormed warehouses en masse. Underpaid security staff unable to keep control ( but then would you go up against an angry mob, for £9 an hour?).

At what price do we question this branding power? Is it acceptable commercialism – something that is necessary for the retail industry? Or is it bad for the nation’s collective soul – as many of us feel compelled to sneer upon the badly behaved? Sociologically it compels us to look down our noses as this supposed “chav underclass” (I’d wager there were few barristers, doctors and architects queuing at Asda overnight).

The stores have been criticised for not taking better precautions, and they clearly won’t be caught out next year. Interestingly there’s a growing movement in the US that Black Friday isn’t for everyone and really they should be staying at home and spending time with their family over the Thanksgiving period, as opposed hitting the sales. (There’s currently 71 petitions on asking both consumers and retailers to change their behaviour to Black Friday.) Personally I think it’d be nice if we adopted the same principle, but with such compelling offers it’s unlikely Black Friday will be a “Black Swan” (a one-off rarity), and all-to predictably, next year is likely to be even bigger.

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