Are Black Friday Shopaholics the Next Super Fans?

By Kristen Pelachyk Dec 19, 2013

Are Black Friday Shopaholics the Next Super Fans?

With less than a week remaining in the 2013 holiday shopping season, our personal shopping lists are most likely top of mind right now—but it’s actually a great time to think about next year’s festival of retail excess from a marketing partnership perspective.

But first, a confession. For the first time in my life, I stood in line outside for Black Friday this year. It was 30 degrees. I was bundled from head to toe – ski parka, hat, and gloves. The 500-person line wrapped around my local Target, ending in an empty field punctuated with Christmas trees.

My shopportunity was worth every minute I spent in the frigid temperatures. I scored a new iPad mini and a $75 gift card. The well-organized Apple electronics checkout had me in and out of the store in 45 minutes.

However, a different story emerged as I scanned the rest of Target.

The line outside had moved inside. Its denizens looked impatient, tired, and although presumably well-fed the day after Thanksgiving, in desperate need of caffeine or refreshments.

Here a captive audience stood. A perfect target for sponsorship and experiential marketing. Where was Starbucks or Coca-Cola on Black Friday?  Which brand would be passing out the latest trend in bottled water or encouraging shoppers to try the newest blend of holiday coffee?

Surely if a sporting event or an outdoor festival delivered the audience that Black Friday does, on-site promotion activities would be in abundance. Brands would be connecting with fans through as many touch points as possible.

A quick review of the numbers shows just how widespread the Black Friday experience is.

In total, 140 million Americans were predicted to shop during this year’s Thanksgiving weekend, according to The National Retail Federation. By comparison, 109 million viewers watched last year’s Super Bowl.

Yet very few brands are capitalizing on this holiday as an experience itself. Local malls, like Green Oak Village Place in Brighton, Mich. (near my native Detroit) offered shoppers a Black Friday survival kit, complete with water, 5-Hour Energy, and hand sanitizer. Oakley stores and dealers across the U.S. handed out eco-friendly water pouches sponsored by Oakley Artesian Water, an unaffiliated beverage brand.

Compared to these specialty stores, large retailers like Wal-Mart and Target left shoppers out in the cold. With tens of millions expected to walk through their doors on Thanksgiving Day and/or Black Friday, where were these shoppers’ complimentary “goodie bags”?

At IEG, we frequently talk about using sponsorship to connect with consumers at their passion points. Black Friday fanatics bring just as much fever and loyalty to their day as NFL or NCAA football fans do to their big games.

Of course, even though bargain hunters would be thankful for hydration, snacks or other ways of improving their experience, it wouldn’t surprise me if the media portrayed partnership efforts in a negative light. You can only imagine the sound bites.

  • “Not only are big box retailers open on Thanksgiving, they are capitalizing on the same lines with on-site promotions.”
  • “Exhausted shoppers clash with promoters hired to pass out free samples.”
  • “National restaurant chain mocked for providing Thanksgiving dinner to those standing in line.”

It’s easy to see how brands and retailers alike could be criticized for taking the holiday shopping season too far. But is this really much different than opening on Thanksgiving Day to begin with? Or encouraging a psychological shopping frenzy in an economic downturn? 

To me, Black Friday partnerships offer brands a direct way to connect with shopping influentials. Sure, a potential for backlash exists, but passing out complimentary water and power bars may humanize the experience – and temper the irritation of waiting in long lines.

What do you think? Would you consider leveraging the Black Friday experience for your brand? Is this a true shopportunity or more of a dealsaster?


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About the Author

Kristen is senior director, research and analytics for IEG’s Consulting group. She has designed custom measurement programs in the marketing and communications space for some of the world’s leading brands. Her work spans multiple verticals, including retail, technology, financial and CPG, and includes expertise in both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Learn about IEG’s measurement services.


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