Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Discovering an origin point

Yesterday, lost in the excitement of my lawn mowing adventure, was something unusual: A Facebook “Memory”. What made it unusual was that it told something that I didn’t know until I saw it: I’d documented an origin point.

Yesterday’s “Memory” (image above) made me realise that back in 2012 I talked about the first time I ever saw “Black Friday” used in marketing here in New Zealand. Until yesterday, I didn’t pay any attention to this FB “Memory” when it popped up, and that’s possibly because in recent years it’s become impossible to get away from the bloody thing! There are now constant TV commercials and daily marketing emails promoting “Black Friday Sales”—on different days, even different weeks, and some sales have been done over several days—or weeks.

This has been going on since October in some cases, and that makes zero sense and is confusing as hell. I’ve seen some news media efforts to help people work out whether something’s much of a sale or not, though there are some regulations about falsely promoting sale prices that aren’t real (a chain that sells luggage was just fined for doing that regularly, not necessarily on “Black Friday”). But the inconsistency makes it difficult to plan for “Black Friday” shopping, as so many Americans do.

The whole thing was wasted on me, anyway. Nigel and I didn’t usually buy each other Christmas presents (just birthday presents), and we only bought something for his mum. If the place we were spending Christmas that year had young kids, we’d buy them something. Other than that, we avoided the seasonal shopping madness, which was pretty awesome for us. It made Christmas so much more relaxing (all the more so because we had two weeks off during that time of year). Christmas shopping is still not a “thing” for me.

After the surprise that I’d documented the actual point when a shift in NZ culture began, I wondered what I said about it at the time on this blog. The answer, sadly, was “not much”.

A few days after I posted on Facebook, I published a post called ”Thanksgiving thoughts”, and I mentioned the email, along with the marketer’s explanation of “Black Friday”—but without an image or naming the retailer. These days I’d do a screen grab of the marketing message, and, in fact, I later did that several times for posts about using US-based things—“Black Friday”, Independence Day, Halloween—as marketing hooks. The only contemporaneous evidence I have showing when “Black Friday” promotion began in New Zealand is from my own post on Facebook. Mind you, if we were talking about something that happened a couple centuries ago, that would be enough, but, yeah, not in these Modern Times™.

By 2015, I still wasn’t impressed. I said in a post, “the whole 'Black Friday' thing has nothing to do with New Zealand and it feels forced (especially when some retailers have been trying it on for weeks already).” The latter part has never changed, but the first part?

Five years later, in 2020, I’d noticed the change:
The next tactic is that retailers are trying is to promote “Black Friday” sales, even though there’s no Thanksgiving Thursday for it to follow. Even so, it’s arguably been more successful than trying to hitch onto Halloween, and for much the same reason it works in the USA: It’s closer to Christmas. Now, too, retailers that sell tech stuff are promoting “Cyber Monday”, bless their hearts.
I still think that the promotion of “Black Friday” has been FAR more successful than retailers' attempts to make Halloween a thing in New Zealand (it still isn’t isn’t, though, as I’ve noted a few times, some years it’s more popular than others).

These days, I sort of tune out most of the ubiquitous “Black Friday” advertising, and I similarly don’t notice “Cyber Monday” ads very much. So far, there hasn’t been a push to promote other US-born things, like the day for shopping at small, independent businesses, “Small Business Saturday” (which would be easier to market if it was the day after “Black Friday”, but it isn’t always).

“Giving Tuesday”, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, also isn’t here, and neither is the anti-consumerism protest, “Buy Nothing Day”, which is held on “Black Friday”. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t Kiwis who sympathise with “Buy Nothing Day” (of course there are!), and there are also people who promote buying local, even without a “Small Business Saturday”. However, most of the Kiwi efforts at “don’t buy that, buy this!” are aimed at promoting New Zealand-made products, not who to buy them from (although it’s often the case that some NZ-made products can often be found more easily at small independent retailers, so there’s some natural overlap).

All this holiday hype doesn’t really affect me, as I said, but I also can’t escape it. It seems to me that the promotions this year have been particularly omnipresent, and maybe retailers need that? The prices of ordinary things, food in particular, have been soaring, and just today the Reserve Bank of New Zealand announced yet another huge jump in the Official Cash Rate, meaning that homeowners will see their mortgage payments rise and, in time, rents will go up, too. There may not be as much cash to spend during whatever promotion retailers push. Maybe “Buy Nothing Day” will become an accidentally commonplace thing this year?

I find all this fascinating, not just the attempts at marketing, nor even the effort to integrate American retail concepts into New Zealand culture. At a far more personal level, I’m fascinated that I documented when I first noticed the emergence of “Black Friday” in New Zealand. At the time, and even for some time afterward, I didn’t know I’d documented the origin point of a cultural shift in New Zealand, and if it hadn’t been for that Facebook “Memory”, I still wouldn’t have realised it.

Change is constant, and we don’t always recognise it when it’s right in front of us. Ten years ago I noticed something unusual, mentioned it, and now I can pinpoint when one particular cultural change happened. I’ll never again say “Black Friday” is useless. Except when I do.


Roger Owen Green said...

I'm pleased that most retailers are closed on (US) Thanksgiving, a real pushback to those Tday sales of three or four years ago.

Arthur Schenck said...

I thought it was a colossally stupid idea, though I realise it was an attempt to compete, especially, with online retailers. Even so, of they can't be closed for one day, there's something seriously wrong with their business model. It's great that so many retailers in the US have come to their senses.