This Black Friday, Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

Black Friday approaches. I should be breathless with anticipation. You see, I’m a brand strategist. To me, the prospect of millions of people reveling in thousands of brands and turning the bottom line from red to black is brand nirvana. It’s like Christmas came early. Which it does, in a way, on Black Friday.

Yet, the tendrils of self-doubt infiltrate my exuberance. Must a weekend so treasured for time spent with friends and family be ruined by being pepper-sprayed at Walmart, by being gored in the Pamplona bull run down the aisles at Best Buy to save 50 bucks on a TV I don’t need? Do we really need to spend any more time glued to our devices buying more clutter?

Maybe you feel this way, and maybe you don’t. But you would expect brands to be cheerleaders for Black Friday, right? Wrong.

Black Friday 2011: Patagonia buys a full-page ad in the New York Times and instructs readers not to buy its jackets. That’s right, they pay good money to tell folks not to buy their stuff. Citing the “astonishing” environmental cost of making jackets, they encourage people to reuse and recycle. Fast forward to Black Friday 2016. This year, Patagonia is donating 100% of Black Friday sales to grass roots organizations "working to create positive change for the planet in their own backyards."  Yes, you did read that correctly. 100%. And sales, not profit.  

Black Friday, 2015: REI decides to remain closed that day and give all its employees a paid day off. No, their P&L does not self-combust. Instead, they choose to close shop again for Black Friday 2016. REI’s CEO says that this “reinforces both REI’s culture with employees and the message that resonates with the company’s core customer base.” About 2 million people plan to #OptOutside with REI.

For years we have seen a movement towards purpose-driven branding. This movement bears fruit, as Millward Brown and others have shown, in tangible financial value. But here’s where we have to be careful about not painting with too broad a brush. While Walmart and Best Buy (and just about anyone doing business today) profess adherence to purpose, they are not defined by it. For Patagonia, purpose is in their DNA. And that’s what Patagonia’s customers love about it. The best brands obsess about what moves their customers, and then they win with a tailored brand promise and experience. For Walmart, that may well be about value and convenience. Patagonia and REI resonate much better when they choose to reject abject consumerism. Love comes in many flavors.

And on that note, I will spend Thanksgiving surrounded by the joyous cacophony of friends and family I love dearly. And as Thursday languidly passes the baton to Friday, I may just #OptOutside.

I wish you, and all those near and dear to you, a very happy Thanksgiving. If you do go shopping and encounter a reasonably priced pair of Allen Edmonds wingtips, would you please let me know? I may have some time to kill on Saturday.    

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