Why Black Friday 2016 is different and what it means for PR

The concept of Black Friday has grown from a one-day, in-store, shopping event to a longer sales period running across the pre-Christmas season. While some might question its PR relevance, comms pros from Frank PR and PHA Media highlight how creativity can provide PR opportunity. 

This year’s Black Friday may look and feel a little different. The event, imported from the US as a single day of slashed retail prices post-Thanksgiving celebrations, is a more flexible and fluid concept in the UK.

Firstly, the occasion is no longer a single day event. Amazon itself, the brand that brought the concept of Black Friday to the UK in 2010, began its sale two weeks early joining the likes of Currys PC World and Argos.

And gone are the days of in-store brawls, like the well-known scene in Asda in 2014. Last year’s event marked the first time online sales exceeded the £1 billion mark in one day, with a total of £1.1 billion spent by consumers and it is expected that this year’s sales will be largely digitally driven. The Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) forecasting that £1.27 billion will be spent this year.

So, with looser definitions of the event and a stretched cultural relevance for the UK in the first place, should PRs still take part? Comms pros from Love the Sales, PHA Media and Frank PR say they should.

Stuart McClure, founder and CMO at Love the Sales, says that when it comes to retail branding the power is in the hands of the consumers.

“Retailers are constantly striving to drive up spend and if they don’t go with the flow, they stand a major chance of missing out on revenue. Unless you have exceptional brand strength and loyalty, customers can be fickle. As a result, Black Friday is unlikely to go away unless consumers get bored, or retailers find a new way of driving pre-Christmas spending,” he adds.

PRs must be more creative 

While Black Friday has presented some PR challenges, PHA Media’s senior PR director Nick Braund says there are still opportunities around the event but PRs must be more creative.

“When Black Friday first launched in the UK, the media buzz was of excitement and intrigue at this new American phenomenon and thus, there was a massive opportunity for PRs to position their clients as pioneers in the space. Unfortunately, by 2016, it has become a bit jaded with the general opinion that the period is getting longer and the deals aren’t that special.

“PRs need to challenge their clients to provide the best possible deals and offers that go beyond just appearing to slash prices. Even though it isn’t as newsworthy as before, there are still hundreds of opportunities created by the event that all lend themselves to PRs generating coverage for their clients.”

As a response to the event’s changes Frank PR helped MyVoucherCodes create a parody video showing Gary ‘Chopper Shopper’ Sykes prepare for a ‘strenuous’ day of online shopping. The video aims to demonstrate the reality of the event and respect consumer knowledge.

Andrew Bloch, founder and group managing director at Frank PR, says: “Black Friday’s transition from an in-store event to a multifaceted online, one-week, one-month long consumer bundle is a bit like the transition from the traditional print media to online media, so of course PR people have to be adaptable in their approach.

“The public has ‘cottoned on’ to Black Friday and that’s what inspired the MyVoucherCodes parody. In America, the day after Thanksgiving is a bank holiday for most of the country, so it makes sense to have this moment here. In the UK, it’s just a Friday that’s been rebranded to create a consumer melee.”

With this is mind, Frank wanted to highlight the prevailing thought that people are ‘willing victims’ and use Black Friday as a reason to justify a little spending spree.

“We’re all in on the joke about how ridiculous people can become when savings are announced, so we wanted to demonstrate that knowledge of the consumer whilst also highlighting the truth – if you’re going to get involved, you may as well do it online because the deals are better…and you don’t have to leave the house and bump into Gary ‘Chopper Shopper’ Sykes!,” explains Bloch.

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