Should the Black Friday PR fail herald death knell for retail gimmicks?

I'd love to be a fly on the wall at the Asda PR team debrief today.

Glynn would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the Asda team debrief on Friday
Glynn would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the Asda team debrief on Friday
How they must have congratulated each other when they successfully negotiated an ITV Good Morning Britain live feed from an Asda store on the biggest retail day of the year. 

They no doubt anticipated hundreds of happy smiling customers sharing their delight with the nation's viewers, while securing incredible bargains and praising Asda for its astonishing generosity. 

We now know things turned out a little differently. In case you missed the TV this morning here's a video.

Black Friday Sales Chaos from Richard Gaisford on Vimeo.

For me, the enduring image is one of customers frantically trampling over each other as cheerleaders gleefully and bizarrely danced and sang in the background.

Before the live link, the news headlines had revealed pictures of police vans dealing with disturbances at Tesco stores and arrests for looting.  

ITV correspondent Richard Gaisford then revealed how poor the selection of discounted offers was before asking the Asda spokesperson if customers were being misled. (There were no TVs left. And no-one wanted toasters.)  

Then he interviewed a woman in the queue who said she was only at Asda because she'd wanted to shop online at Tesco – but couldn't get on the website.

No winners there really.

Back in the studio, a viewer on the studio sofa was trying to shop online. She revealed all websites were down before proclaiming she felt that we were all being taken for a ride by retailers.

So, where does that leave us then?

Chasing the bottom line
As the tills grasp the cash, and finance and operation directors will slap each other on the back in congratulations tonight when the figures come in; what is the true cost of the long-term damage to consumers' opinions of our retailers?
The opportunity for shrewd communicators is to wake up to the stark reality of the damage these promotional gimmicks are potentially causing the sector.

Customers aren't stupid
As customers, we know the DFS sale will never actually end. We know that the no obligation-free quote will probably end up costing us money. And we know the monthly broadband deal laden with free enticements will be loaded later on to offset the loss leader.
The result is that retailer influence with its customers is being eroded. In the future we'll tune out the gimmicks and selling messages even more. Increasingly, we'll buy when we're good and ready. And when we do we'll buy from retailers we know, like and trust.
Do you think the scenes we've witnessed today help with that?

Controlling the message?
There was a massive contrast between the message Asda thought it had controlled and what the viewers saw. It won't be the last to be caught out this way. Controlling and delivering messages is in the past. It's old school and a bygone remnant of mass-market advertising that accompanied the industrialised economy.
But times are very different now. The opportunity is to acknowledge that the power of PR to control messages is diminishing. 

Good news?

PR is perfectly placed seek out brilliant authentic transparent conversations with customers – then add value and interest to them.
Yes, it's a long-term strategy. No quick-fix bank balance-boosting hits here. But that's how 'know, like and trust' will weave its magic in retailers’ favour.

The truth is everything
So which version of the Christmas truth will customers remember when next year's inevitable Black Friday sales arrive? Will it be the Val Doonican jumper version? Or the greed-fuelled customer-trampling bizarre cheerleading version?
Anyway, got to dash. I have a crackling open fire to sit in front of while eating mince pies and watching YouTube videos about a penguin – on my new flatscreen TV I just bought in the Black Friday sales.

Richard Glynn writes the PR Detox blog

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