COMMENTARY: Will Black Friday Need to Be Rebranded?

by David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC

The Christmas holidays and toys are synonymous. Indeed, toys and the Christmas season are a tradition. Another holiday tradition is Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. Yet over the past several years, Black Friday has started to lose its meaning with retailers pushing opening hours ever earlier. Now many retailers are opening on Thanksgiving Day, and pushing the envelope to see how early they can open on that holiday. This is an attempt in some aspects to rebrand the holiday shopping season and establish Thanksgiving Day as the start of the traditional shopping season. Retailers are stating that they are responding to consumer demand; yet surveys show that 87 percent of Americans are opposed to retailers being open on Thanksgiving Day (even though they frequent the stores).

So what would be a smart strategy for the toy industry as this happens? Should toy stores open on Thanksgiving? Should toymakers make a strong push for Thanksgiving Day sales? Is Black Friday over and should everyone jump on the Thanksgiving Day bandwagon? The answer to these questions is a resounding no.

Today’s savvy consumer is looking for a retail experience when they go shopping, from the moment they enter a store until they leave the store.  During the holidays, consumers seek a holiday experience that embodies traditions, as much as door-buster sales. This is especially true of millennials who respond to nostalgic branding and marketing. What tradition is greater than shopping for the hottest toy the day after Thanksgiving? By waiting until Black Friday and not joining the frenzy of Thanksgiving openings, the perfect campaign is ready-made. Retailers and toy makers can state to consumers, “Remember the holidays and its traditions? One of the traditions was Thanksgiving as a day of family, which is why we will be closed on Thanksgiving, enjoying time with our family while you are with yours. Then join us on another tradition: Black Friday, and searching for the toy that will make a child’s eye sparkle.” This type of campaign creates a sense of holiday experience and ties into the longing for nostalgia that consumers are expressing. It allows a toy retailer to brand their store and hours as part of the holiday experience, creating that retail experience that consumers crave.

Competition is fierce among retailers and toy companies. There is a need to stand out from the competition. With more and more retailers opening on Thanksgiving and bombarding reporters with press releases of their hours and why they are opting to open on the holiday, it is easy for the media to report on retailers that are open on Thanksgiving Day. Finding one that is closed is the harder thing to do. A toy store that announces that they are going against the grain by staying closed on Thanksgiving and starting the holiday shopping hours on Black Friday will garner immense free PR as that in itself is a story for the media.

Finally, there is the public perception of toy retailers and even toy companies. They are viewed as fun places to work. Having employees work on Thanksgiving Day is frowned upon, even by consumers who may frequent the store. Why appear as a Scrooge in making your employees work, when you should be known as a Santa?

Toys are as much a part of the holiday tradition as Christmas trees, Santa, and decorations. Yet that tradition could be at risk by opening on Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving and Black Friday have long been viewed as the start of the magical holiday season. By being open on Thanksgiving and making major product pushes on that day, there is a risk that Thanksgiving will become just another day. And once the holiday season begins to lose its brand identity, toys could be next.

David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC, an Atlanta-based public relations agency that specializes in branding, crisis communications, and media placements. Additional information on Johnson and Strategic Vision, LLC may be obtained at www.strategicvision.biz.