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The Thanksgiving Paradox: A Feast For Consumerism After Giving Thanks


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How Black Friday and Cyber Monday Have Become Affixed to a Holiday of Gratitude and How Brands Capitalize On This Phenomenon.


Every year, Thanksgiving in the United States signifies a time for reflection, gratitude, and coming together with loved ones to share a bountiful meal. Just as the last piece of pumpkin pie is devoured, another tradition kicks off, one that seems to stand in stark contrast to the spirit of Thanksgiving: Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This annual shopping frenzy — originally intended to mark the start of the holiday shopping season— has evolved into a marketing phenomenon, with consumers rushing to snag the best deals in-store and online.


Thanksgiving: A Time of Gratitude and Unity


Celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, Thanksgiving is a beloved holiday in America. It encourages us to pause and reflect on the things we're thankful for, to express gratitude for the blessings in our lives, and to celebrate with family and friends. The holiday's essence is the spirit of togetherness, giving thanks, and helping those less fortunate.


In a certain way, it could be seen as a lead-up to Christmas, and a way of granting early access to the spirit of bliss and gratitude from the holidays.


Black Friday: A Shopping Extravaganza


Immediately following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and its internet sister Cyber Monday rush in with a wave of rampant consumerism. Along with the excitement of the holidays, it comes with shopping madness. It has become synonymous with door-buster deals, early store openings, and shoppers lining up outside retailers in the early hours of the morning. According to a report by the National Retail Federation, the average Black Friday shopper spends over $300 on sale items, with a significant portion allocated to gift purchases.


The Psychology Behind Black Friday and Cyber Monday


The allure of Black Friday and Cyber Monday lies in their psychological appeal. With that in mind, we can determine 3 key factors that are involved in this shopping mayhem:


  1. Discounts, of course: People are naturally drawn to discounts and deals, even on items they may not necessarily need. The concept of getting something at a lower price than one is willing to pay is satisfying. This satisfaction is amplified by marketing tactics that make Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals appear exceptional, even though sales happen throughout the year.


  1. Limited time Offers Another potent psychological trigger. Black Friday deals are often marketed as "limited-time offers," creating a fear of missing out (FOMO). This fear drives consumers to make impulsive purchases, as they believe they won't find a better deal elsewhere. The rush to capitalize on these limited-time offers fuels the shopping frenzy.


  1. Shopping Momentum: Another phenomenon, that encourages people to buy more when they've already made a purchase. Retailers often use loss leaders to attract customers, selling products at a discount to lure them into stores or online shops, where they are more likely to buy additional, higher-margin items.

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But How Did It Win Such Force?


It's just a matter of looking at your preferred social media platform to realize where the answer is. Because, let's face it, aren't we all a victim of advertising through them?


The role that brands and media play are pivotal in fueling Black Friday excitement. They create a sense of scarcity by setting arbitrary limits on stock or promoting "one-time-only" deals. Companies like Amazon employ tactics like "Lightning Deals" that showcase the limited quantity and time remaining for discounts, amplifying the urgency to buy. The increased media attention leading up to Black Friday, coupled with social media use, further intensifies the FOMO phenomenon.


On the other hand, cultural and economic factors also contribute to Black Friday’s success. The fact that Black Friday falls on the day after Thanksgiving, a time when many people are off from work and have recently received their paychecks, creates the perfect combination of free time and discretionary funds to make it an opportune moment for shopping. Additionally, the move towards online shopping, accelerated after the COVID-19 pandemic, has made card payments the norm, and an even easier way to shop without even leaving the house, influencing buying behavior.


Reflecting on the Paradox


As we contemplate the Thanksgiving-Black Friday-Cyber Monday paradox, it’s essential to consider the values we hold dear. Thanksgiving embodies gratitude, unity, and appreciation for the non-material aspects of life. In contrast, Black Friday and Cyber Monday celebrate consumerism, material acquisition, and the thrill of a good deal.


This paradox forces us to ask ourselves whether the pursuit of material possessions should overshadow the values that Thanksgiving represents. It's a time for self-reflection, a moment to consider what truly matters in our lives, and whether the allure of discounts should divert us from the essence of gratefulness and unity.


In conclusion, this not-so-dynamic duo is a testament to the duality of our modern lives, where the desire for material gain can sometimes overshadow the values of gratitude, unity, and togetherness.


At GVG, we know that a good marketing strategy helps to accelerate sales, but a great marketing strategy goes further and embraces the values and meanings of what is more important to preserve: humanity.


As we navigate these back-to-back celebrations, we encourage you —and ourselves— to endeavor to strike a balance between appreciating the intangible blessings of Thanksgiving and indulging in the material temptations of Black Friday. After all, in a world filled with sales and discounts, it is essential to remember the true meaning of gratitude and belonging during this special time of the year.


By Steven Le Vine, Founder and President at GVG Agency.

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