It’s hard to believe that the summer has come and gone, let alone that we’re already in December. The X Factor is almost over, it’s Capital’s Jingle Bell Ball this weekend and the ad industry has been in full-on Christmas mode for a month. The Campaign team began its seasonal celebrations with agencies in September – though that’s nothing compared with those of you working on a retailer who probably kicked things off way back in February.
But festivities were supposed to ramp up a notch last weekend with the UK’s low-rent version of Black Friday – the US celebration of consumption designed to redress the balance after Thanksgiving. The lull after last year’s Black Friday weekend of excess was one of the reasons that John Lewis created the next phase of its campaign with Age UK in an attempt to keep the momentum going.
It was a good weekend for media companies as the brands wanting a piece of the £1 billion being spent by consumers turned to advertising to promote their wares. The Sun printed a bumper 120-page edition and the Daily Mirror’s ad volume increased by 15 per cent. Currys PC World, Asda, Very, Littlewoods, Boots and Argos all took part in the frenzy. Some estimates put newspapers’ ad haul for the day at £5 million, making it their biggest weekday of the year.
In 2014, the UK seemed to have happily co-opted the worst of the US tradition and photographs of people fighting over TVs filled the next day’s front pages. Happily, there was none of that this year – people rarely needed to queue (never mind fight) for bargains and many even shunned the shops in favour of buying things online.
While we wouldn’t wish a repeat of Black-Eye Friday, a lack of shoppers on the high street is usually bad news. Research by Springboard estimates that footfall over the weekend declined by almost 10 per cent year on year, with retail parks the only environment to buck the trend. This was unexpected. When the British Retail Consortium reported disappointing figures in October, it suggested that shoppers were holding back for Black Friday.
This is the most important period of the year for retailers. Those punch-ups in the aisles will be remembered with increasing fondness if the depleted crowds of last weekend continue throughout December. Figures from Experian/IMRG suggest that online sales on Friday grew by more than a third year on year, so there is some hope that enough is being spent online to make up the shortfall. Moreover, Group M revised its forecast for the year up again on Monday, which is always a welcome sign.
Plus, Christmas is around the corner so it’s no time to be gloomy. We have the long nights of January for that.