Standing out in the crowd: 3 campaigns that brightened our Black Friday

Black Friday is an American holiday tradition that has recently started to catch on around the world.  It’s one of the busiest shopping days of the year, with some of the best deals and biggest crowds: in online sales alone this year, shoppers spent over $5 billion in just 24 hours.

With these massive sales comes an even bigger push in marketing. And while Black Friday deals frequently lend themselves to a price-focused strategy, some brands have taken a different approach for this massive consumer celebration. Here are three Black Friday campaigns that think outside the gift box.


For the past three years, outdoor retailer REI has made headlines with its Black Friday marketing. While many retailers encourage overnight lineups and extended hours, REI actually closes each of its 150-plus stores and processes no online orders, encouraging its customers and staff to #OptOutside and spend the day outdoors instead. Instead of promoting sales, REI inspires its customers with a hub of user-generated content that demonstrates the beauty of the outdoors.

When #OptOutside first started in 2015, the campaign was an immediate success. REI’s social media mentions increased 7,000 percent, with 2.7 billion PR impressions in just 24 hours. Just three years later, the #OptOutside movement has grown far beyond REI, with brands like Google, Subaru and the U.S. National Parks Service doing their part to support the movement.

And REI isn’t the only retailer looking to give back on Black Friday. Outdoor clothing company Patagonia, for example, committed to donating 100% of its Black Friday profits to grassroots environmental non-profits in 2016, and reached a record-breaking $10 million in sales.

Though it may seem like intentionally earning no money on one of the most profitable days of the year is just a charitable thing to do, it’s actually a great strategy. #OptOutside supports REI’s core values and the values of its customers, leading to greater customer loyalty and a significant rise in memberships and sales.

Campaigns Against Humanity

While some companies stand out on Black Friday by making the world a better place, some companies just stand out. Dark humour party game Cards Against Humanity has a long-standing tradition of Black Friday stunts its fans look forward to every year.

It all started in 2013 when, instead of offering Black Friday sales, Cards Against Humanity actually raised its price by $5, joking that customers would “enjoy buying them that much more”. The stunt was a hit in the media — the “sale” earned a ton of press coverage, and was the top post on Reddit that day. Plus, it didn’t end up hurting the game’s sales for the day at all.

The next year, the company offered Bullshit by Cards Against Humanity for $6. When the 30,000 customers received their orders, they found that the box contained, well, exactly what it said it would.

In 2015, the company sold literally nothing for $5. 12,447 people bought the “product” — many even several times — and Cards Against Humanity earned a total of $71,145. The staff then made a post about how they each spent their share of the money, with purchases including student loans, a custom suit of armor and 760 pounds of cat litter.

Last year, customers paid over $100,000 for Cards Against Humanity to dig a hole the ground for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

And just this past Friday, Cards Against Humanity announced they were retiring the company to sell Prongles, a Pringles knockoff with the world’s worst slogan: “Once you pop, that’s great!” Prongles, available in salt and potato or onions and cream flavour, were sold on shelves at Target and took over the Cards Against Humanity website for the day.

Like REI (though in the complete opposite way), the popularity of Cards Against Humanity’s Black Friday campaigns proves that focusing on sales isn’t the best option for every brand, even on the most popular shopping days.

The DIY Escape Room

While it’s definitely interesting when brands swim against the consumerism stream, it can’t be expected of all retailers. Unfortunately, the hard push on sales often leads to less-than-creative flyers and emails. So, when a brand comes up with a crafty way to promote their Black Friday sale, we take notice. This year, Lowe’s was one of those brands.

In addition to their traditional Black Friday flyer, Lowe’s produced a 17-minute ad in the form of a reality show. The show took place in an escape room with puzzles that could be solved using home repair skills. A contractor, an electrician and two DIY YouTubers worked together to get out within an hour using tools from Lowe’s Black Friday sale. The reality-style format showcased and demonstrated the products in an organic way, while keeping the audience’s attention with the drama of reality TV.

Now, it’s no secret we’re a fan of escape rooms, so maybe we’re a bit biased. But after coming home to a mailbox full of Black Friday flyers every day for the past week, it’s refreshing to see something that doesn’t feel like clutter. And with over five million views and tons of positive feedback, we don’t think we’re alone in feeling that.

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