Why anti Black Friday campaigns don’t work

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If you’re in the sustainability sector, you probably shudder when another Black Friday offer pops up in your inbox.

You know the dark side of mass consumption…

And you want people to “Wake up! Stop shopping!”

But unfortunately, Black Friday has become a social norm.

Buying presents to gift at Christmas is a social tradition – and for those with the disposable income to do it (typically the consumers with the highest carbon footprints), it’s deeply connected to social status.

And every single Black Friday offer, banner or TV ad your audience consumes, helps to reinforce the social norm. The unwritten rules of behaviour that tell us how to behave and how to feel.

We’ve evolved to follow the crowd. It keeps us safe. So we simply won’t depart from the social norm. It’s science.

Behaviourally speaking, these things are all really hard to change.

Total US advertising spend was $23 billion in 2018. $6bn of that – 25% – was spent in the 4 day shopping period from Black Friday to Cyber Monday.

That’s simply too much noise to compete with.

So while an anti Black Friday campaign or boycott might garner a lot of support WITHIN your sustainability echo-chamber (where the social norms are slightly different) – it’s very unlikely to cut-through to a mainstream audience and stop them shopping.

Many sustainability-driven brands understandably want to boycott black Friday and ask their audience to do the same.

Perhaps most famously, in 2011, Patagonia took out a double page spread in the New York times telling people NOT to buy their jacket. (A PR stunt that increased sales by 30%).

since 2016, the brand has garnered more positive pr attention by giving all black Friday revenue to environmental protection groups ($10million in 2016).

what looks like a boycott campaign on the surface is actually a clever pr narrative backed by a big ads budget to get cut-through.

But from a behavioural science perspective, unless you’ve got the ads budget of a global brand, counter-narratives against the social norm of shopping at Christmas aren’t powerful enough to cut through.

Instead, focus on positioning yourself as a positive alternative. Behavioural science shows people are willing to pay more for handcrafted items, so if that’s your USP, push it front and centre. Highlight the quality of your products, the benefits to the people who buy – and remember, better that people buy your more sustainable alternative if they’re going to shop anyway!