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Has Black Friday Peaked? Today’s Brand Moments Beyond Black Friday

A connected brand and e-commerce environment has fueled new peak periods.

Has Black Friday Peaked? Today’s Brand Moments Beyond Black Friday

Pre-pandemic advertising…does anyone remember those times? As we approach Peak, we all may recall a time when, during that distant pre-COVID era, Black Friday and Cyber Monday were considered *the* sales periods. A distinct time that impacted everything, from creating standout brand moments to the cost of media.

With the sharp acceleration of e-commerce and the realities of today’s omnichannel, connected commerce lifecycle - which now includes more complex aspects of customer experience and 1st party data - brand strategy must be more fluid and responsive.

In other words, it’s not just about one major Peak moment anymore. It’s about the nuanced many. Some, like Amazon’s Prime Day, for instance, and others, emerging through wider cultural events, like this year’s FIFA World Cup.

Download our guide for navigating Peak this year.

How did we get here?

Black Friday has, over the years become, Cyber Month. According to research from IPA, In the US, 30% typically shopped before Thanksgiving in 2021, with 42% claiming they shop throughout the year to take advantage of deals. In the UK, 19% say they will do the bulk of their Christmas shopping this year in early November, whereas, 21% of females will start their shopping in September/October. Early bird gets the worm, right?

Overall, Peak season is getting longer, with brand moments and sale periods fluctuating depending on the products. For example, the health and fitness market now often leverages new year’s resolutions as a major moment, while fashion and luxury brand moments are driven by pre-established collection launches. Then, you’ve got e-commerce challengers like SHEIN, whose digital-first, DTC business model and hyper-focus on newness, is taking a go at fashion market share, particularly with Gen Z consumers. Issues on sustainability aside, you can’t deny its success - SHEIN surpassed Amazon in 2021 as the most downloaded shopping app and has amassed 5.3m followers on TikTok, with heavy user engagement and #sheinhaul unpacking  videos generating more than 6bn views.

In 2021, many brands started their sales earlier, but our own market insights indicated slower conversions on campaigns. This dichotomy between early campaign activity and delayed user engagement underlined the uncertainty of a post-covid market and a shift in consumer sentiments.

This fluidity of the October-January period is particularly starkly contrasted when taking into consideration regional nuances, which vary considerably when looking at target audiences outside the US.

The landscape in 2022

Peak - it’s all kicking off.

In 2022, the Peak period is itself facing an altogether different e-commerce landscape, as the FIFA World Cup in Qatar marks the first World Cup held in the Middle East and also the first to be taking place late in the year, with a schedule running from November 21st to December 18th. Additionally, the match for England vs. USA will take place on Black Friday itself on November 25th.  

Whereas a summer-time World Cup would normally hold a halo-effect over campaigns, the timing of the sporting event coinciding with the traditional pre-Christmas campaigns, against the backdrop of a cost of living increase and Gen Z consumers exponentially increasing in the addressable market, planning Peak strategies in 2022 presents a number of challenges and opportunities for brands. 

The primary challenge for media planners will be placement over the period and managing fluctuations in media costs, which will require meticulous planning down to the specific hours of kick-off, as well as creative messaging that captures and resonates with precise target audiences.

Early research by the IPA in the UK, which gauges consumer intentions, indicates that 38% of people believe that the World Cup will be an inconvenience over the Christmas period. And nearly half (45%) of people think it will not make the Christmas build-up exciting, with just 20% of the UK sample surveyed planning to use the World Cup as a gifting opportunity.

The insights from the IPA also showed that UK male consumers were more likely to watch the World Cup, whereas the females surveyed were planning to attend Christmas related events, such as Christmas markets, parties, meals with relatives, and the traditional UK pantomime. With only 22% of the respondents in the UK planning to watch the games at hospitality venues, this would suggest a multiscreen viewing, with mobile streaming, catch up, and broadcast viewing all on the cards, as fans try and capture the game in between school shows and Christmas parties. 

However, there are further nuances in audience segmentation when considering GWI Europe data, which anticipates that 38% of Millennials will follow and watch the World Cup, whereas only 28.7% of Gen X and 28.5% of Gen Z intend to do so, respectively. 

Our POV: We will likely see purchases and traditional buying patterns of Peak and Cyber month disrupted.  But this doesn’t have to be all bad.  Audiences may be distracted and split between their ‘GET READY FOR CHRISTMAS’ and ‘CAN’T MISS THIS MATCH’ but brands can capitalize on this, be smart, and turn the ‘pre and post match’ moments into micro buying moments. Consider the location, moment, and screen, and how to tailor the message and product to the moment. Even a step further, tailor exclusive discounts and offers to those moments, and dynamic offers and messaging based on the results of the games.

Dates to be aware of:

  • World Cup starts: 20th November
  • Thanksgiving: 24th November
  • Black Friday: 25th November
  • WC (England vs USA): 25th November
  • Cyber Monday: 28th November
  • WC Final: 18th December

The cost of living crisis

The IPA research also revealed that with 55% of the UK having to cut spending due to the cost of living crisis, more than half (53%) of the UK population think Christmas will be stressful due to cost of living concerns. Whereas in previous years of austerity, when this has perhaps traditionally meant less spending on adults gifting, this is effectively the first financial crisis directly impacting the spending habits of Gen Z, with 32% of Gen Z saying they aren’t prepared to give up socializing amid the cost of living crisis. With socializing and saving the two top priorities for Gen Z consumers, this presents a challenging and highly discerning audience for the peak season. 

Reflecting the challenges of affordability, there has been a significant increase in Buy Now Pay Later. According to Statista, the global transaction value of BNPL is set to rise 78% to $214bn in 2022 vs 2021, and 61% of Gen Z have claimed to use a BNPL service, with 29% of all consumers surveyed saying they use BNPL once a month or more. 

Our POV: There will be extra emphasis on value, as consumers watch their digital wallets carefully.  Brands should look to tailor offers with extra value opportunities, potential for ‘two gifts in one’  which can help solve multiple gift buying occasions in one.  

Amazon Prime fall event:

Following the Amazon Prime event in July, the marketplace has alluded to a potential second Prime Day in October, which could significantly impact spending habits across all consumer segments, and with that, the cost of media across other channels.

Whereas 35% of US shoppers reported spending less on the July Prime Day 2022, the event nevertheless exceeded 2021 and converted 300m+ items and $12bn. Amazon Advertising recaps also revealed:   

  • Ad spend increased 31% YoY, with most dollars spent on the first day of Prime Day
  • Ad sales increased +1073% YoY
  • CPCs increased +123% from Prime Day 2021 to 2022, with the Electronics category seeing the highest CPC lift
  • Impressions were up +169% across all categories YoY, with Clothing, Shoes, Jewelry & Watches seeing the most lift

According to Amazon, brands that advertised leading up to and during Prime Day showed a 216% increase in awareness and 214% increase in considerations, compared to the week before. 

Our POV: With 57% of Prime Day shoppers shopping other sites to compare pricing, brands must consider their media plans and ad strategy carefully. The impact of a Prime Fall event on the UK and other non-US regions will depend highly on the timing of the event and appetite for early peak shopping and any variances to Cyber Monday promotions.

So, what?

Increasing  fluidity of the October-January period in recent years is further accelerating this year and strong indications are that audiences in different markets are going to behave differently. 

Furthermore, we expect to see consumers shopping in different ways, and brands must acutely pay attention to micro segmentations and moments, as well as media channels.

What else? Media inflation is a real watch out for all.  With TV inflation in Europe expected to be the most expensive since the pandemic, could this Q4 be the most expensive ever? The knock-on impact means that brands will be expecting stress on the ROI, especially with increased competition for fewer consumer dollars. Brands need to be smarter and focus on how to stand out and convert those consumers.

Our tips: 

  • First and foremost, decide on your Peak strategy now. Speak to your strategy team to determine what approach needs to be considered.
  • Consumer trends are showing variances per market. Consider regional nuances across the period by honing segmentation in line with insights.
  • Now is the time to innovate. Use this as an opportunity to be experimental (and experiential!) in an approach to counter media inflation. Banking on last year’s approach in a totally different world will be the biggest risk.
  • Your performance media needs to be brand media and brand media can be performance, so planning an integrated and connected approach is essential. 
  • Use a multi-screen approach to targeting and connecting in those moments
  • Think about how you can authentically tap into buzz around the World Cup, through products or partnerships, but targeting those micro moments and messaging.
  • Make users smile during crises via entertaining or emotional formats.