Black Friday campaigns compared: “Thanksgetting” vs. “OptOutside”

By Katy Penrod, Minerva Strategies ̶

The modern American Thanksgiving has become a celebration of consumption that is a far cry from the original pilgrim feast of giving thanks to God for simple things like not dying aboard the Mayflower, say, or to the Native American tribes for helping the settlers harvest enough corn to sustain them.

Many Americans celebrate Thanksgiving by recreating this harvest feast, but also taking part in Black Friday. The concept of Black Friday in itself, a day devoted to buying things, is almost comically counter to what Thanksgiving is meant to be about – practicing gratitude for all that we (especially in prosperous modern America) already have.

Delving into history just briefly, the origins of Black Friday can be traced to the blooming consumer economy in the U.S. after World War II. As the economy began its upswing, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas became a marker of success – a period in which merchants could hope to move from red (losses) to black (profit) heading into the New Year. Since then, retailers have capitalized on the day to maximize profits even further, offering consumers discounts not available at any other time during the year. The frenzy has reached such proportions that there is even a site counting the number of deaths and injuries incurred as consumers flood into shops looking to score the best deals.

This frenzy has turned to fatigue for a growing sector of the American public. According to the National Retail Foundation, sales were estimated to have dropped 11% (down from $57.4 billion to $50.9 billion) last year, with a large portion of that shopping occurring online rather than instore.

This year, two companies responded to this growing consumer weariness very differently.

In a promotion that almost seems ironic in its blatant opposition to the values espoused during Thanksgiving, Verizon launched its “Thanksgetting” campaign, encouraging users to focus on what they can get this year (“free movies, music, and more”) rather than what they can give. The deals are, obviously, only available starting Black Friday in order to feed into the hype surrounding the holiday.

In contrast, REI recently released plans to close all of its shops and give employees a paid holiday on Black Friday. They are also encouraging employees and consumers to “OptOutside” (spend time outdoors with friends and family) instead of participating in Black Friday shopping.

While these responses seem diametrically opposed, it is up for debate whether or not each company’s intentions are really that far apart.

It would be lovely to think, and could be true, that REI is launching its #OptOutside campaign for the good of its employees, or, even more optimistically, that the campaign will be just the first in a wave of moves by corporations to reduce their contribution to out of control consumption.  However, the campaign is directly on-brand and catering to the typical REI customer – liberal, outdoorsy types with a distaste for rabid capitalism. As such, the campaign, while causing the company to incur some initial losses, could boost sales in the long run. Verizon, on the other hand, is also maintaining their brand in this promotion – being reachable, everywhere, at any time, even on holiday weekends – and, at the very least, is being forthright in its intentions to promote sales.

Corporate intentions aside, it is worth reflecting on how Thanksgiving has evolved from a holiday celebrating the many things we have to be thankful for to one centered on gluttony and consumption. It is also worth thinking about how your actions will contribute or take away from Thanksgiving’s original intent. Whether it be by spending time with loved ones, actively practicing gratitude, shunning Black Friday and Cyber Monday by taking part in Giving Tuesday, or the countless other ways to reflect and give thanks this holiday, we encourage you to not buy into the consumerization of Thanksgiving. We’ll be doing our best to do the same.