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3 Unconventional Black Friday Campaigns and Why They Worked

Last updated: 20 Nov 2019

It’s the most wonderful time of year for discounts because Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. But while many companies follow suit holding similar sales, some ecommerce businesses have experimented with doing things a little differently in the past few years.

Instead of using the increase in email open rates to promote their products, these brands have been using the increased visibility of the weekend to promote a different message entirely.

So what were the most unique Black Friday and Cyber Monday campaigns in recent years? We’re showcasing brands who got experimental with their marketing, exploring how they pulled it off, and giving ecommerce marketers some inspiration to consider this holiday season.

Everlane’s Black Friday Fund

Apparel brand Everlane doesn’t offer deep discounts over the holidays because they practice what they call Radical Transparency, where they sell high-quality clothing without the everyday markups. This means that for Black Friday, Everlane needs to find an alternative to offering shoppers half off, since their clothes are already half as much as comparable brands.

Instead, Everlane focuses on giving back with their Black Friday Fund, a campaign they run every year that collects money to go towards different charities.

Last year, the Black Friday Fund partnered with the Surfrider Foundation, a charity that’s dedicated to cleaning up the oceans and beaches. With every dollar spent at Everlane, the brand promised to take action by cleaning up a pound of plastic.


This campaign supports Everlane’s recent ReNew effort, which promises that no new plastic will be in their supply chain by 2021. Where many brands talk about sustainability and environmental consciousness, Everlane puts their money where their mailing list is to show customers they’re serious about making an impact.

As consumers are increasingly putting company’s ethical values at the forefront of their buying decisions, Everlane’s charitable Black Friday campaign ensures customers that they’re focused on giving back during a time where brand’s are usually most interested in raking in the profits.

#OptOutside with REI

Where most businesses take advantage of the Black Friday foot traffic at their retail locations, outdoor sporting gear and apparel brand REI actually closes their stores completely for Thanksgiving and Black Friday to boycott corporate greed.

For the fifth year in a row, REI is closing their doors to the public and encouraging shoppers and employees to instead spend their time outside instead for their yearly #OptOutside campaign. In the most recent #OptOutside campaign, REI also asked consumers to sign up for a 52-week action plan to help cut carbon emissions.



"What we've seen in the retail space is more and more organizations saying, 'What does it mean to lead with our purpose? What does it mean to lead with our values?'" said REI Chief Customer Officer Ben Steele.

"We're understanding the power of that and the evolving consumer expectation that organizations need to do more than just sell stuff.  [#OptOutside] became a demonstration of that philosophy and that belief.”

Considering that REI has continued the campaign year after year, it seems to be successful for the brand whose customers are highly active and are more interested in rock climbing than discount shopping. These consumers resonate with the message that spending time outside is more fulfilling than participating in the chaos of Black Friday.

While other companies might not want to risk closing their retail locations on the largest shopping day of the year, REI realizes that this campaign is a long-term brand play that goes beyond Black Friday and cements themselves as a trusted brand that sticks to their core values in consumers’ minds throughout the year.


Cards Against Humanity’s Bold Ask

Cards Against Humanity is known for their popular card game, a brand voice that’s often just as hilarious as playing said game, and out-of-the-box Black Friday campaigns.

On past Black Fridays, they sold random items for 99% off and held a “promotion” that increased the price of their products by $5, but the campaign we found particularly interesting was they year they asked customers to pay them $5...for nothing.

Cards Against Humanity-1

The card game company collected $71,145 from 11,248 people and let their employees do what they wanted with the profits, outlining what each team member bought on a dedicated web page. This list includes 760 lbs of cat litter, a divorce attorney, a piano, LASIK eye surgery, and 21-year-old scotch.

Cards Against Humanity wasn’t making a grand stance on Black Friday or donating to a specific charity, although a good sum of the total was donated by employees.

Instead, the company that dubs themselves as a “party game for horrible people” and has a section for “your dumb questions” on their website instead of an FAQ decided to see what would happen if they relied on clever copy to convince customers to give them money.

Not just any company could get people to pay them $5 dollars for nothing, and it was a risk for the brand where they could have implemented tried-and-true marketing tactics. Yet, on the day that shoppers are looking for the best deals, Cards Against Humanity offered what was probably the worst deal of all time, and customers were still happy to partake.

So how did they pull it off? With a unique brand voice that revolves around being quick-witted, Cards Against Humanity is one of the few companies that could make a profit for giving their customers absolutely nothing tangible in return.

Instead Cards Against Humanity knew their audience well enough to know if they could give customers a good laugh, they would be happy to pay.

Branding Black Friday

What do all these unconventional Black Friday campaigns have in common? The messages still manage to match their brand -- Everlane embraces sustainability, REI advocates for spending more time outdoors, and Cards Against Humanity hones in on their sense of humor.

It might not be the right fit for your brand to skimp out on Black Friday sales completely, but it doesn’t mean that you have to hold the same sales everyone else does this holiday season. There are small changes you can make to your campaigns to stand out.

Whether you’re closing down shop completely, partnering with a charity that reflects your brand mission, adjusting your discount strategy to more accurately reflect your business, or just tweaking your email copy, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are an opportune time to show loyal shoppers and new customers exactly what they can expect from your brand the rest of the year.

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