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Media’s Titles Are Often Just Insignificant Semantics

Earlier this week, I read a very insightful blog by Darrah MacLean, a copywriter at Smith-Harmon, a digital marketing services agency and a unit of Responsys, about how the media — and the general public — have adopted “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” as shopping “holidays.” His overall take on both is that they’re both pretty weak monikers, mostly negative and even a little lame (particularly the outdated-sounding “Cyber Monday”).

I’d agree with Darrah to an extent. Especially the negativity that comes from the first term, which he pointed out was originally coined after the stock market crash of 1987. Except when applied to African-Americans, the word “black” is usually negative, so there’s really little positive to be found in the expression, “Black Friday.” I also agree with Darrah that “cyber” anything is old and outdated. I vividly recall about 13 years ago somebody telling me in what was then a new tool called email that I should loosen up and “get cyber!” Old stuff now.

But here’s where I disagree: Darrah and some of the people who wrote replies to his blog suggest that “Black Friday” should just be referred to as the “day after Thanksgiving sale” or something more positive or better descriptive. To that I ask, What’s in a title? Do consumers really care?

Darrah said in his blog that when he entered a J. Crew store that day, a clerk said “welcome to Black Friday.” Would that have led Darrah or the average consumer to panic and scream “Yikes! I’m gettin’ outta here!” and to bolt? No. All consumers want are the bargains. What do they care about media-induced semantics? If I knew that all the stores in the local mall were offering all their merchandise at, say, 75% off with no exceptions (which would be about the only way to get me to shop on Black Friday), I really wouldn’t care if they called it “F**k-Off Friday.” A bargain’s a bargain.

If my memory’s correct, I believe the first football championship game to be called the “Super Bowl” was the third one when the Jets stunned the Colts. Does that mean that the Packers, who won the first two championships between the NFL and the old AFL, never won a Super Bowl? Of course not. Just semantics spread by the media.

Is Anything Really ‘Interesting?’

I tend to be a very no-nonsense kind of editor. As I just mentioned to someone this morning, with rare exception, I’ll always delete the word “interesting” from any article, because it’s a way for the writer or person being quoted to say something about some-thing or somebody when they really have nothing noteworthy to say. If you read that something’s interesting, does that really mean anything to you? Neither does Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Just insignificant semantics.

Labels and titles can be nice (“Super Bowl” makes the winning team feel truly “super”); they can be quite revealing (“Mother’s Day,” “Father’s Day”). But with the two recent shopping “holidays,” I believe they can be mostly inconsequential.

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Black Friday? Cyber Monday? It’s Binge Discounting All This Week

Blogger’s Note: Following today’s entry, I’ll take a hiatus until next week. So today, I offer you a broader assessment of how the discount retail shopping game is shaping up this week.

Who knows where we’ll be a year from now, but at least for this season of store and online retail bargains, the killer sales are already going on. Although there will still be big store sales this Friday and probably even bigger ones online next Monday, the big retailers already began to duke it out for the lowest prices earlier this month.

As an article on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times noted about the biggest store retailer (Wal-Mart) and online merchant (Amazon.com), the gloves have already come off. And as the Times article points out, Wal-Mart has used the media to pick apart Amazon.com’s discounting efforts, trying to ensure the public that its prices will always be the lowest. Meanwhile, Amazon.com has taken more of a high road, noting that bargains can come from all over, not just Wal-Mart.

These two “shopping holidays” haven’t been around all that long. Although Wikipedia tells us that the term “Black Friday” dates all the way back to 1966, it also notes that it didn’t take on a true shopping connotation until 2000. Cyber Monday didn’t hit its stride until just four years ago.

Now, however, with cash-strapped consumers perhaps looking to get back in the shopping game this holiday season, they’re hungrier than ever for a good bargain. Retailers, e-commerce merchants and catalog sellers are equally eager to offer the bargains to show some sort of sales gains this season to make up for the miserable time they’ve had throughout the Great Recession.

Then, you have to factor in the tragedy that took place at a Valley Stream, Long Island, Wal-Mart store just 12 months ago when bargain-hungry shoppers trampled over a defenseless Wal-Mart employee as the store opened at the stroke of 5:00am on Black Friday, fighting their way to the store’s sale items. Wal-Mart announced just last week that although its stores will open at 5am again this Friday, it would keep its stores open a full 24 hours thereafter to try to prevent more The Who’s 1979 Cincinnati concert-like stampedes from occurring again.

What this all adds up to is the likelihood of these two shopping holidays expanding beyond just the two days. This year will offer just a taste of it. Next year could see a considerable expansion of sales days at this time of year.

It’s a trend not unlike the so-called “fifth quarter” of retail business that evolved over the past 20-plus years as the holiday shopping season took on greater and greater importance to retailers, catalog marketers and later, online sellers. What started as a surge of sales immediately following Dec. 25 kept expanding week by week over the years, leading all the way back to this very week we’re now in.

If you can date yourself all the way back to the recession of the early ’80s, you might recall the last extended period of time in American retail when cut-throat discounting reached such levels. As the economy picked up in the mid-’80s, discounting eased up, full-priced retailing edged back and service levels improved. Perhaps that could occur as soon as next year at this time, but I’m guessing that the current state of binge discounting will prevail.