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Rebranding Black Friday
Black Friday began right here in Philadelphia.
But the true origins of the name are different from the prevailing narrative today.
For decades, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been a big day for retailers and the unofficial kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
It was always a big weekend in Philly, in large part because the annual Army-Navy game took place on the next day.
In the early 1960s, police in Philadelphia were less than enthused about the crowds and crimes that came with a mass influx of shoppers downtown. Salty about the long shifts and extra paperwork, they were the first to dub the day “Black Friday.”
The name began to catch on around Philly and beyond. Retailers tried to put a positive spin on the day by calling it “Big Friday,” but it didn’t catch on.
“Black Friday” continued to gain prominence nationwide, and by the late ‘80s retailers got serious about changing the narrative.
It was the department stores and retailers that came up with the story that the Friday after Thanksgiving marked the day retailers became profitable each year. On Black Friday, they claimed, a company’s books went from “the red” to “the black.”
Next-level Marketing Looks on Black Friday
That’s a far more optimistic origin story than the surging crowds and heavy traffic that first frustrated cops decades ago.
Despite the rebrand, the negative connotation around Black Friday has grown in recent years. Some stores caught flack for pushing sales into Thanksgiving Day, and a number of injuries and fatalities have been connected to the day over the years. Many brands have pushed for a broader sale season that now includes Cyber Monday.
The negative PR has prompted many brands to move away from the holiday. REI has closed its doors on Black Friday as part of its highly publicized #OptOutside campaign. Cards Against Humanity has made an annual tradition out of roasting the day.
It’s not an option for every brand, but it does create an opportunity to stand out from the consumer pack amid doorbuster deals and super sales.