In Black Midnight, You're Watching a New Holiday Tradition Being Born

Decry Consumerist Encroachment All You Want, but Many of Our Customs Started as Marketing Gambits

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While the debate rages over the ethics of retailers bringing forward their Black Friday opening times to midnight on Thanksgiving, it's worth remembering that retailers and shopping have long played an integral role in our holiday traditions, so why should this latest change be seen as any different?

In 1939, retailers put pressure on President Franklin D. Roosevelt to move Thanksgiving forward one week in order to give retailing a boost, by extending the holiday season selling window in the wake of the Great Depression.

Indeed many of the traditions we hold dear as institutions in our holiday season have been basic marketing ploys to drive sales. Some of our traditions with the highest cultural capital, such as Macy's Thanksgiving parade, are no more than events designed to draw shoppers out of their homes. Likewise, it's well known that we have Coca-Cola to thank for Santa's current incarnation (though the folks at White Rock Beverages say they were first) and Montgomery Ward to honor for Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

Introducing 'Black Eve'
To many people, the tradition of getting up well before dawn to join a line outside Best Buy or Toys 'R' Us is as much part of their Thanksgiving tradition as eating turkey and pumpkin pie. So, the culture shift to bring the idea of shopping on the night of Thanksgiving could in fact be far more popular than people believe as it can create a sense of extension to the fun of Thanksgiving.

Smart retailers could tap into this, creating a sense of party and celebration for shoppers choosing not to slump at home, but to head out for late-night bargains as a social event.

Needless to say, after a day of eating and drinking, consumers who head out to stores with buying front of mind will be far more inclined to spend than they would if they were cold, tired and hungover with a specific purchase in mind when store doors open at 5 a.m.

Likewise, waking up on Black Friday surrounded by a mountain of sale purchases could feel much like an early Christmas morning to many people and certainly will lead to stories of the wild night spent shopping together, trading tales of the craziest purchases, fights witnessed over bargains and the late-night journeys home.

This also means we'll see a shift in the behavior of what people do on Black Friday.

For traditionalists who preserve their Thanksgiving traditions not much will change, aside from perhaps missing out on the best deals. For discount hunters who head out on Black Eve, they will benefit not only from the best deals, but they also will have the next day to spend as they choose.

Some consumers may be inclined to venture back out to the stores with a more casual approach to browsing the leftovers. Others will be able to relax and find their own time to enjoy a day that was otherwise dominated by rushing through busy stores.

Thanksgiving Moves to Friday
Another effect from the Black Eve will be that those people who shop on Thursday may choose to defer their Thanksgiving meals and celebrations to Friday, effectively switching Thanksgiving's order of events.

This could also prove popular with those staffers working in retail who have to give up their Thanksgiving in order to work on Black Eve.

For many people, this may be seen as the destruction of longstanding family traditions -- and these reactions are to be expected. But as history has shown us before, these disruptive innovations quickly become established in culture as core to our cherished experiences around these popular celebrations.

What Black Eve Means for Brands
The focus of media attention on retailers' decisions to bring opening times forward into Thanksgiving has been the impact for workers and infringement on traditional family time. But this is a view that focuses on what we're losing rather than what we're gaining.

By building Black Eve into the cultural calendar as a new Thanksgiving tradition, we are gaining another focal point in our holiday period that will act as a standalone event from Black Friday.

Retailers capitalizing on this culture shift will benefit not only from an extension in selling, but in fact create a double spike in buying behavior.

Smart retailers would be well advised to be first to create marketing based traditions that build consumer association between their brand and the experience of Black Eve.

Clyde McKendrick is executive strategy director at WDCW and can be reached at [email protected].
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