How PR Tried to Take Away ‘Black Friday’

you have to fight So here I am, wrapped in my Santa Snuggie with a Turkey hat, going in and out of a gravy-induced coma while beset by media coverage of “Black Friday.”

The mayhem. The carnage. The humanity.

I thought this day of delirium had to do with getting stores “in the black,” but then I stumbled upon a Big Friday fact that I didn’t know:

PR tried to kill it…or at least spruce up its reputation a bit.

Here’s the day’s basic origin story (and yes, it’s from Wikipedia):

The day’s name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Use of the term started before 1961 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975. Later an alternative explanation was made: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss (“in the red”) from January through November, and “Black Friday” indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or “in the black”.

ap_black_fridayToday, it’s more than a profit-making venture. Black Friday is the sacred holiday of retailers everywhere, when people camp out in $300 tents to save $150 on a TV. While reading more, I stumbled upon the work of Bonnie Taylor-Blake, who did some eye-opening research on the history of the bemoaned day and sent it to the American Dialect Society.

Her research had more to do with worker absenteeism on that day than the shopping rush, but while researching the article, Taylor-Blake found a piece in a public relations newsletter from 1961 that suggested an alternate phrase — a “rebranding,” even:

Santa has brought Philadelphia stores a present in the form of “one of the biggest shopping weekends in recent history.” At the same time, it has again been proven that there is a direct relationship between sales and public relations. were-doomedFor downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping days normally are the two following Thanksgiving Day.

Resulting traffic jams are an irksome problem to the police and, in Philadelphia, it became customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday

Hardly a stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by the merchants with their Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, one of the country’s most experienced municipal PR executives. He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to “Big Friday” and “Big Saturday.”

The media cooperated in spreading the news of the beauty of Christmas-decorated downtown Philadelphia, the popularity of a “family-day outing” to the department stores during the Thanksgiving weekend, the increased parking facilities, and the use of additional police officers for guaranteeing a free flow of traffic … Rosen reports that business over the weekend was so good that merchants are giving downtown Philadelphia “a starry-eyed new look.” —Public Relations News, Dec. 18, 1961, p. 2.

Can you imagine “Big Friday” sales today? Of course you can’t! Despite Rosen’s well-meaning efforts, today remains “Black Friday.” And given what the day has become, I might have to side with the cynics.