Cyber Monday: A Masterpiece of Marketing Hokum?

After watching a few of the hair-pulling, face-punching retail mayhem clips now making their way around the web, we’re amazed to say that we made it through the first wave of the holiday sales season intact.

Hey, don’t relax yet– it’s only just begun.

Every semi-sentient being in our solar system knows that today is “Cyber Monday”, when swarms of online shoppers hungry for deals can make or break retailers looking to boost their year-end revenue totals. Last week we gave you a very brief history of “Black Friday”, a phenomenon several decades in the making that ultimately required the collaborative efforts of America’s political and retail classes. Cyber Monday, on the other hand, is nothing but a marketing scheme—and many would call it a brilliant one.

The retail industry’s evil plans are working fairly well: Online buy-stuff giant FatWallet’s recent survey of more than 600 American shoppers found that significant majorities expected to find the best deals today, that 1 in 3 planned to spend more money this year than last, and that 1 in 5 would conduct some of their crucial shopping while at work (though not us, obviously).

We can pinpoint the very moment that this nonsense began: coined the phrase in 2004 to describe a phenomenon that hadn’t even occurred yet, describing it as “an opportunity to create some consumer excitement” over a whole lot of nothing. The event seems to have grown into its own hype over time via a very basic PR rule: remind people how great something is often enough and they might just start to believe it.

We think we understand: The prospect of sitting in our well-heated apartments, sipping cocoa and watching Peanuts while choosing gifts for our loved ones is infinitely more appealing than waiting in a cold line outside a big box retailer while cursing ourselves for not using the bathroom one last time before leaving the house.

But has the phenomenon outlived its usefulness? Today Wired notes that all retailers would offer sales this week no matter what in a never-ending struggle keep up with the competition. Every single day between Thanksgiving and Christmas will always offer some sort of sale—and the savings often hit peak intensity on December 26th. Do we really need to keep calling this phenomenon Cyber Monday or Cyber Week? What’s the next step in this unnatural progression–“Retail Month”? How about “Six-Week Buying Spree?”

When you think about it, these massive seasonal promos are similar to negative political ads. Everyone claims to hate them and complains about them every year or two, yet repeated studies show that they work, so the cycle continues ad nauseum. Have we created our own nightmare through brilliant marketing?