The Thanksgiving season means that Christmas advertising has begun to air, and that’s as frustrating as any advertising ever is. The commercials targeted towards Black Friday sales, those taking place on the Friday after Thanksgiving, are the weirdest of all. Black Friday itself is something that terrifies me: it’s a day where people are willing to stay up all night to… buy things they could buy any other day at slightly cheaper prices.
The Black Friday advertisements of my childhood were decidedly less aggressive. The sales would run during the normal business hours. They’d be no different than other sales, of course: they were just all on that particular day. That someone once decided, apparently, was important for shopping, because I know after a day spent in a food coma or some such, I want to haul myself around town and buy things. Then, somehow, the sales began to get more in-your-face. They started opening at earlier hours of the morning, five, then four, then midnight. They ran for days at a time. It got stranger and stranger.
Now you have advertisements discussing not just what’s on sale and how cheap it is (not usually be-awake-at-four-in-the-morning cheap) but the various strategies that you can use to aggressively shop at all of these sales. A series of Target ads portrays a manic woman in a velour red tracksuit, with a perfectly coiffed side ponytail, preparing for the sales: she builds a gingerbread house version of Target, eyes wide and jittery, she runs at a level 10 resistance on an elliptical machine, backwards, in her high heels. To “practice.”
A Wal-Mart ad portrays a woman, her shopping cart full, approaching an employee (male) and asking him to read her shopping list aloud. “It’s all crossed out,” he says, confused. This woman then exclaims that that’s because she got everything on the list. She’s smug about her shopping success. I understand that it’s a nice feeling to meet your goals, but really, it’s not as if she couldn’t buy the things at another time. Or, were she concerned about saving money, she could buy fewer things.
Another Wal-Mart ad shows two women discussing another woman, similarly crazy-eyed, over their own shopping carts. The woman they’re discussing is apparently the star of Black Friday. She’s the Black Friday shopper that other Black Friday shoppers dream of being. Apparently, she’s actually named her child “Black Friday.” And the women aren’t disgusted by this, they’re in awe.
Another ad portrays a married or at least dating couple in the car getting ready for Black Friday sales. The man is holding flashcards, the woman is informing him which aisles the various items can be found on. We don’t see the last flashcard right away, but she informs him that it’s in fact a trick question, because they don’t sell his mother at the store. He nods, because clearly that’s an intelligent observation, even though… really? Flashcards? Was that necessary?
A Kohl’s ad actually begins with a group of women, shopping bags in their arms, popping out of the store’s doors. “It’s Black Friday, Black Friday!” the central one sings, a la Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” As if any of us needed that earworm back in our heads.
Possibly the least gendered of these ads is one that begins with a standard disaster movie voice. “In a world,” it begins, in a way exactly that sounds like the voiceover on the Knights of Badassdom trailer (which got my hopes irrationally up), then it goes on to describe Black Friday in a way that makes it sound like an apocalypse, and the Fred Meyer sale as a cure to the apocalypse. The men and the women in the commercial act similarly about it, but it almost annoys me the most: it’s an insult to apocalypses. I take my fictional apocalypses seriously, and Black Friday at Fred Meyer is no such thing.
The vast, vast majority of these ads portray women as shallow, materialistic, and somewhat crazed. The men that do appear are dense and similarly shallow. It’s a weird commentary on how people are expected to react to Black Friday. (I personally spent Black Friday buying a Christmas tree and Googling cupcake recipes, then watching television and dyeing hair with friends, but hey.) I was asked recently if I’d really want commercials to be more realistic. Wouldn’t that be boring? Wouldn’t that be unfunny? Wouldn’t that be bad entertainment? No.
I’d actually rather have it that way, at least occasionally. I don’t know how you would actually make a Black Friday ad more realistic, because I don’t know anyone who participates in Black Friday IRL, but I’m sure there’s a way. There’s got to be.
–your fangirl heroine.