Whilst Black Friday has technically only made its way to the UK a few years ago, every year it sparks a new wave of criticism and anger, and this is becoming all the stronger as society as a whole moves towards a more sustainable and socially-aware consumption.
Black Friday is a reflection of our society as a whole.
It acts as a metaphor for disparities and inequalities in our society. When some pay below-the market value on one given day, others pay over-inflated prices the rest of the year to make up for such marketing gimmicks.
Black Friday does not feel fair but somehow it is expected. More and more people despise large corporations that, though greedy they may be, are able to offer economies of scale, and we have grown accustomed to being able to pay lower prices on a variety of goods.
I commend all small businesses that stand their ground and do not take part in Black Friday. Their skills, their talent is often crushed and devalued by established and large businesses who indulge in a weekend of price-cutting. The audience and target market of both might be different of course, but it still does not negate the over-consumption the event encourages. So many fight, perhaps a losing battle, surrendering sales along the way to competitors who give in.
Producing goods locally, by hand, with quality materials is not cheap. They will last longer, but often represent more of an investment, a thought-out purchase that not everybody, regardless of their morals and desire to do good, is able to do.
So here lies the conundrum. Whilst there is a movement towards purchasing and owning better quality, handcrafted items, our current relationship with money, materialism and status is stronger still.
As Black Friday becomes bigger every year, it has also brought with it a counter-movement - sometimes referred to as the Alternative Black Friday Movement - as well as a new kind of marketing: the clever guilt-free deal. The one that encourages spending not through cost-cutting but by making a statement, and creating a deeper connection with customers by strategically aligning with causes that matter to them. You can shop, but do so ethically, with purpose - support slow fashion instead, buy with a conscience.
More and more companies now join altruistic causes and make a company-wide statement for the occasion. It is paramount for such initiatives to be part of the wider vision of a brand and not only apply on Black Friday when the whole world is eagerly watching and listening, or else it will only appear as a marketing tool only. Doing good is one thing, doing it when nobody is watching is another.
This, in turns, strengthens the bond with customers; we all have causes that we like to support, and companies know how to tap into that. Has the counter-movement become a marketing tactic of its own? Being good to people, employees and the planet is ultimately good for business. Are we unknowingly being tricked, again?
At the end of the day all businesses need to make some money to stay alive and pay wages to their employees. If companies close down due to a lack of funds, they leave jobs and unpaid mortgages behind.
Ironic of course how Black Friday arrives the day after Thanksgiving, the day Americans celebrate togetherness and feel grateful for what they have. Much like Christmas (in the traditional sense) and Boxing Day - it seems that one day of rekindling with more traditional values and focusing on spending time with loved ones is enough to justify the frenzy of materialism that comes thereafter.
Perhaps it is not so much Black Friday that is problematic but our response to it. Why do perfectly mannered people become vultures at the sight of a good deal? Perhaps the fear of missing out, the scarcity makes our innate animal instincts resurface. We live in a society of plenty - what drives that surreal nonsense to over-consume? What makes it so difficult to resonate with yourselves and live within our means?
There is a growing conscience for fewer and better. And a plethora of brands that champion this movement work incredibly hard to spread the word. It takes a few to start a movement and it is the beginning of change, but it remains a long and laborious process. Mindsets have to be changed. It is not simply about each and every one of us doing ‘their bit’, it is about re-assessing the collective thinking, society as a whole and the world as we know it.
This article was originally written for The Riddle.