Talk Description to Me

Episode 78 - Black Friday Sales and Advertising

November 19, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 3 Episode 78
Talk Description to Me
Episode 78 - Black Friday Sales and Advertising
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

You just can't escape advertising in the modern world. Even if you've been living under a rock there's probably a tiny billboard there promoting a New and Improved rock cleaner! With Thanksgiving upon us and the Christmas shopping season right around the corner, Black Friday advertising is everywhere. This week Christine and JJ describe viral videos of Black Friday chaos, and discuss the impact of ads on our visual landscape.

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)
JJ Hunt:

Talk description to me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashed out in description rich conversations

Christine Malec:

Today we're going to talk about a subject near and dear to the hearts of many shopping. And it is the season for shopping to ramp up and in anticipation of Black Friday, JJ and I thought we would talk about some of the visuals and videos and the visual phenomenon that accompany this the shopping frenzy time of the year. So, JJ, I'm personally a little vague on how this whole thing got going. So can you give us a bit of background on how the this time of the year got got to be called Black Friday and what it actually means?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, so it's kind of long been understood that the

Christine Malec:

Ooooh! Christmas shopping season begins after American Thanksgiving. So

JJ Hunt:

So that's one explanation of the name. I've back in the early 1900s, department stores started sponsoring parades in the late fall. In Canada, these were Christmas parades. So the Toronto Santa Claus parade, by the way, this is the original Santa Claus parade. It started in 1905 and it was sponsored by Eatons. In the US, these parades were sometimes Christmas parades, but sometimes they were Thanksgiving parades like the Macy's Parade. And these store sponsored parades were used to launch the Christmas advertising campaigns for the year. So the unofficial rule was that you didn't start your Christmas advertising until these parades until after the thanksgiving parade and the Thanksgiving weekend. And so the way a lot of retailers operated in those days and now was that throughout the year, you wouldn't make a lot of profit, your ledger would be full of red ink to indicate you at a negative balance that's being in the red until the Christmas season and then the Christmas season would come and that's when you would make your profits for the year so the sales to launch the holiday shopping season would get your ledger into the Bblack. Hen e Black Friday. heard others. I've heard, there's a version of the story that is that police would refer to the traffic congestion and the crowds on the streets as all it's Black Friday you know all the shopping and you know craziness in the in the parking lots and that was a police term. I've also heard that employees would call in sick after the Thanksgiving long weekend quite a bit. And so it was a really busy shopping day and half of the employees wouldn't show up so store owners were call it Black Friday.

Christine Malec:

Oooh!

JJ Hunt:

I don't know I kind of like the red ink black ink thing because I'm a bit of a luddite. Me too. Ha ha ha! So the modern Black Friday sales they grew from there right they evolved from this you know, post thanksgiving parade you know, sales to get you into the stores and start making money for for retailers evolved into this like important shopping day where the best deals were to be had. And that made it a chaotic day within the sales got bigger and bigger, the promotions got more outrageous. And people were inspired and prompted to go wild with excitement. And so this became a Christmas shopping staple in the US. And then when store chains and shopping behavior went global Black Friday sales became an international phenomenon. You couldn't have major sales in the US and not have them in Canada or the UK just wouldn't work because you're able to shop anywhere you want. So everyone started doing Black Friday sales and as the sales would pop up in new countries, the media would kind of tee up the chaos, right? They would send a reporter to the store to Oh, the doors are about to open. What's it going to look and so the media would tee us up for this like incredible chaotic event. Local news. outlets are involved the major you know national media is involved international media people rush to get the big sales. And then that's when the crowds get to wild people behave atrociously. Everyone's now got a camera. And what we end up with is like a YouTube sub genre of crazy and sadly even like deadly Black Friday videos

Christine Malec:

It talking some of the stuff through before we started recording, we were talking about the movement of crowds and how this helps to make sense of some of the things we hear or at least kind of put them in a context. And I feel like that's a phenomenon that's very difficult to get a handle on if you're not sighted. And so can we start with some of those images?

JJ Hunt:

You're absolutely right, that this understanding how crowds move will, you know, is really important and understanding a lot of these videos. And it also, it's helpful to understand that some of the behavior that you see from within the crowd isn't just the responsibility of the individuals, it's the it's the responsibility of the whole, it's the crowd, as a whole, it's the situation that's been set up for the individuals within the crowd, right. So we can talk about some of these, the crowds. To get a better handle on the situation as a whole. I'll start with a clip from this is 2011, an urban outfitters in California, this is an indoor mall. And I should say that, like, I'm going to try and I'll pass along dates and locations, you know, as they were available in the YouTube, captions, but take those with a grain of salt, these videos get get plucked, and put in compilations and spread all over the place. So I can't actually say with any real certainty that this is really from 2011. This is really from California. That's what it was labeled in the video that I saw this video that from 2011, Urban Outfitters is filmed from a level above, so you're inside a mall from from one level looking down at another. So you're looking down on a big crowd that's gathered in front of the store, the store doesn't have doors, it's one of these open front mall store entrances. And there's a, there's a white grid security gate that's keeping the crowd out of the store before the store opens behind this security gate, this kind of fence, our alarm sensors, these are this at like a row of free standing head high plastic frames that are spaced out like I don't know, every five feet or so. So that as you go in or out of the store on a regular day, you have to pass between them to enter exit, and you know, alarms, security alarms, whatever. So the crowd, which is as a wide as the store, maybe I don't know, 30, 40, 50 people deep, it's really hard to know, they start to yell when the security gate begins to rise. And a few of the shorter people who are at the front of the crowd, they slip under the gate and run into the store. before it's even like three feet off the ground, a few people are already darting into the store. And at this point, the people at the back of the crowd they start to move forward. So from above, you can see the back of the crowd pushing in. But most of the people at the front they can't go anywhere yet. So the crowd gets tighter it gets squeezed in from behind. By the time the gate rises to maybe chest high, then the first few rows of people they can duck under and they can flood into the store. And I use the word flood quite intentionally because crowds like this move like rushing water. That's both a description of the visuals. But it's also an academic description of crowd dynamics, I did a little bit of research into the way academics study crowds. And they do often talk about it like rushing water because of a crowd is packed in to a tight space. And then more space suddenly becomes available. The crowd moves to fill that space just like water does. It's really interesting. So you can see these from above you can see waves within the crowd, as as people move in one direction or another and Visually, it looks that the the way the crowds, the individuals are moving within the crowd, you can see a visual wave, a ripple of movement through the crowd when action by a few influences the movement of the people behind them and then the people behind them really interesting. So keep this flooding imagery in mind. It's not a bad idea. So again, in this urban outfitters video, the pressure from the back of the crowd is relieved when the front of the crowd is able to rush under the rising gate and into the store. And then soon, those alarm sensors I described are completely overwhelmed by the crowd rushing in the sensors are actually literally carried away by the force of the crowd. I think I mean they they at least completely disappear. Some might be knocked down and trampled I can't really see him anymore because the crowd has the swarmed and they have you know filled the entrance to the store the teeter the few of these centers teeter back and forth a few just disappear and then you know at First people are able to run into the store when the when the store is empty and the crowd is packed. But then pretty soon the store gets packed and the crowd behind is emptied out a little bit. It's like sand pouring through the narrow pinch point of an hourglass, right. And that's how the flood moves in. That's how the crowd moves into the store until almost everyone is inside. And the crowd outside has thinned to something like, I don't know, like Rush Hour at a subway station or something. And then that's when the video ends, because now everyone is in the store. That's the chaos. No one got injured in the scene. But the flood of people into the store was remarkable.

Christine Malec:

Now, I gather this has become sort of a social media phenomenon where there's viral videos about stuff like this, are there particular videos that get circulated a lot?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, I've seen I seen a bunch of these that get they pop up in different compilations. There's one from a Victoria's Secret in Chattanooga, Tennessee 2018. There's a video of a young woman who's kneeling on a display table behind a pile of leopard print garments, I'm guessing I think they're like fleece sweaters or something. And she's panicked. She's yelling at the frenzied crowd that is basically surrounding this display table. Some of them are pulling the sweaters off of the pile. And she's kind of shoveling other like garments off to you know, like, screaming and pushing the garments away, to try and get people away from her and the news reporter that was, you know, filming this indicates that that this woman had climbed onto the table to escape the push of the crowd. Yeah, while and I should say in all of these videos, the crowds are really diverse. They're diverse in terms of age, in terms of skin tone, men and women. So I'm not doing a lot of describing of individuals because it's not about the individuals it's really about the mass of people and their every like their everyone. I found one clip of two women in a in a department store. This is in a housewares aisle. One of them is lying on the floor on her back and holding a boxed set of pots and pans. So it's a you know, big box, she's got her arms all the way wrapped around. And there's a second woman leaning over her trying to pull the box away. But the woman on her back has such a firm grip on this box. She's refusing to let go that she gets picked up off the ground and then dropped again.

Christine Malec:

Gasp!

JJ Hunt:

Picked up and dropped again several times, neither woman will let go of this box. Another video from 2017. This one apparently filmed in a mall in South Africa. Again, this is one film from above. These ones work really well. We are filming from above cuz you get to see the whole crowd you get to see more of the crowd. So this is a flood of people that are rushing into a Nike outlet as the doors are open. So this store has a fairly wide opening for a doorway, but it's just a doorway, not the whole side of the store that's open. And the wide doorway is framed in with with plate glass wall panels. Does that make sense?

Christine Malec:

Um hm.

JJ Hunt:

So you get a wide open doorway and then on either side plate glass wall panels. There are security guards that are linking their arms to block the doorway for the crowd that's pushing against them. And then when they start to move when they start to release their arms and allow people in the crowd pushes so hard this wave gets pushed in the crowd pushes so hard that the guards are flung inside and one of the guards who is gripping the metal frame at the edge of the glass wall panel. He swings inside like a door that's being pushed into hard and he swings all the way in and he cracks the glass wall panel.

Christine Malec:

Gasp!

JJ Hunt:

He flies in there's a big crack that appears in the glass wall panel and then the pressure on the frame from people rushing past it rushing inside filling the interior space as well as pressing into from the outside. This crack soon becomes this web this like spider's web of cracks all along all the way across the entire glass wall panel. Nuts. I saw one video that from Manchester and 2014 This was a news reports this is one of those times when you know they send a reporter into the store to film you know All Black Friday sales have come to Manchester UK right. And this was filmed from inside the the small department store a very narrow doorway on this one. So two employees are sliding open one set of double doors through which the customers can enter the store and it looks like it's the only entrance to the store. Outside the crowd. Again, lots people men women, young, old, totally diverse crowd. They're pressed up against the glass doors and they're all smiling. Everyone's happy. The doors are open and the flood that people just pour into the store. But they're really hemmed in by those freestanding security sensors that I talked about in the other video. There's one on either side of the open doors. So it takes an already tight entrance, and tightens it even further, it creates a real bottleneck. And in seconds, someone at the front of the group trips over a stack of green plastic shopping baskets that you would normally just pick up on your way into the store.

Christine Malec:

Gasp! Um hmm.

JJ Hunt:

It was a thin person and a coat and a touque. And they fall to the floor. And then of course, as soon as they fall onto the floor, the crab keeps pushing, the crowd keeps rushing from behind, so the person behind them falls on top of them. And then then the next person and the next person soon, you have this pile of bodies at the front of this store before the news shuts off and switches to a different a different angle. And then the news and then it gets even weirder in this video, same news report. Then they they the camera operator is in the middle of a tangle of bodies. So you can see the backs of heads waving arms. There are some big thin rectangular TV boxes that are popping out of this crowd. But because you're right in the middle of the camera is right in the middle of the crowd. It's difficult to understand the parameters of the scene like I don't know if we're in line I don't know if we're trying to get through an aisle I honestly can't tell. It's just so crowded. So the camera operator pans moves the camera pans away from the crowd didn't turns behind. And standing behind them is a cheerleading squad in black boots, little short shorts, push up bras, and they're waving pom poms in the air doing a really simple synchronized cheer little dance routine to like Yay, we're all saving money and yay, big sale. All of this while this chaos the crowds have completely gummed up the movement in the store. Just a few feet away. It's wild. It's madness.

Christine Malec:

About a month ago, you and I were involved with part of the Luminato Festival. And it involved one art installation where billboards were taken over by art. And it, it made us have a really interesting discussion about the visuals of ads. And so I remember saying, you know, what's, what's normally on a billboard? How do people interact and the conversation we had about ads stuck with me in a huge way. And it made me think about the extent to which if you are not cited, you're kind of insulated from the barrage of ads. And if if you make an effort to unsubscribe from things and avoid things, you can stay kind of insulated from ads. But if you're cited, you can't avoid them. And so can we talk about some of the advertising around Black Friday and some of the I mean, attitudes are hugely varied. Some people really welcome it, some people really don't. And so I guess what I want to know is as a sighted person, what can you not avoid?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, good question. So, my own personal experience these days, I don't watch any commercial TV or listen to commercial radio I stream from subscription services. I seek out and follow clips based on social media posts and recommendations. I listen to a lot of podcasts, Public Radio, college radio. You know, we're in Canada, so I did miss a lot of the Black Friday sales commercials and advertising that I know a lot of our listeners are going to be subjected to. But that said, I am online a lot. So my Facebook feed is full of Black Friday ads, my Twitter feed full of ads, Instagram full of ads, and I'm not good at Instagram. I am old. So when I signed up for Instagram, I thought the idea of like idea based social media would be great for like following artists. So most of the people I follow us on Instagram or like graphic designers and tattoo artists and printmakers but even those folks, artisans, they're having Black Friday sales too, because they need to compete with Walmart strangely, like they have little sales in their, you know, on their websites on their Etsy pages. And then walking down a commercial street even in Toronto even three weeks before you know Black Friday sales will be going on. storefronts covered with black friday banners and signs in the windows. There are billboards on you know above the streets saying big sales to come. Honestly there are in newspapers if you're reading through an online newspaper there are articles in the paper talking about which sales are going on. GQ just had an ad -- an article -- It's not really an ad it's an article, today on one of the top 21 shoe deals that will be available at you know Black Friday. It's I mean It's everywhere. And honestly like with this was part of our conversation before it's hard to overstate just how ubiquitous billboards our visual ads are in our urban contexts they are. I mean, they are everywhere. They're on streetcars on buildings, they're above buildings. Cars are wrapped in ADS transport trucks are covered in ADS. They're on storefronts they're in store windows are along highways, on city streets on neighborhood bus stops. And then the that not only billboards, but video billboards, and these change all the time. So on the video billboards, you will be getting Black Friday sales because they changed that marketing for the season. So video billboards on downtown streets along the highways, again, bus shelters with video ads. Back in season one, we talked about TVs in public spaces. So the kinds of TVs and elevators, dentists, offices, convenience stores and banks, fast food restaurants, those are also playing a steady stream of ads. And again, those are updated regularly. So those are full of Black Friday ads. Visual ads are everywhere. They're posted over urinals and on bathroom stall doors. There's a neighborhood diner that you and I haven't been to yet. But that's got ads on their tables, they've started selling ad space where you know, they'll just stick a sticker on top of their table for a store down the street. I've been on airlines there are a few different airlines that actually have ads on there inflight barf bags, everywhere, bananas, because bananas can be taken in a kid's lunch. It's a healthy food that parents can easily put into a kid's lunch and send that send that to kids in the lunch box. Disney sometimes puts stickers on bananas to advertise their movies, their kids movies, the modern world is absolutely saturated by visual ads. And this has a huge impact on sighted people who grow up in these environments. Right?

Christine Malec:

I need a shower. This is disturbing. When I hear about this. I have no concept at all.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, it's bad. It really does, it affects you from the time you're a kid. So when we were having our radio Lumi conversation, I think I told you the story about realizing the impact of this on my kids. So I was walking with my then eight year old and they pointed at a bus shelter ad as we're walking down the street and said, it's this is an ad of a woman in a bra and panties, right lingerie ad and my eight year old points that are and says, "Oh, I know her." And I laughed. I thought it was kind of funny.

Christine Malec:

Ha ha! And my kid said "No, no, no!" They took offense to this. They said "No, no, I know her. She's outside my classroom." And so I had to dig into this a little bit. And it turned out that from my eight year old's desk in their third storey classroom, you could look out the window. And you could see a billboard on a street down the hill. This is a neighborhood school in a neighborhood, you know, surrounded by trees and houses. But there was still a billboard, on on a street down the hill. And for months, they'd been peering out the window over the tops of the school yard trees to this billboard of this very lingerie model. Ugh!

JJ Hunt:

And so having seen her every day, from the safety of their classroom, they not only recognized her in an abstract way, but they felt like they knew her.

Christine Malec:

Personally.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, she was part of their school experience. It's unbelievable.

Christine Malec:

And I only know this from, you know, in depth conversations with sighted people. But um, so when I'm scrolling through Facebook, I'll get something that says shingrix sponsored. And as soon as I hear the word sponsored, I'm just flicking past. And so I'm not really I might take in a word. If I recognize it, my brain will go okay, it's for whatever they're advertising. But for sighted people, maybe you can explain the phenomenon that you can't not see what's in front of you.

JJ Hunt:

Yeah. So I don't know how this works in terms of when you're taking in this information, audio information versus visual information, but I can say from my personal experience, the second that that that image appears you're already taking it in before visually before you have made any kind of intellectual decision to do so or not. It has already started. And so then you have to fight. You have to decide, am I going to follow Am I gonna am I going to zip away am I going to close it down? But you've already started taking in the information visually it's already happened. You've it's already it's you've already started to absorb it. And so what happens is that you end up going along with these things because your your brain gets hooked on these things. Before you've intellectually decided whether or not you want to participate, there's an ad for a clothing, like a little boutique clothing manufacturer, that I get advertised a lot. This is some kind of cottage wear so they make sweaters and things like that. And their online advertisements on Facebook are brilliant. Because the first thing that happens in this in this video ad, is that you get just one second, literally one second of an attractive woman in a bathing suit with a towel wrapped around her shoulders, and she's looking back at us, she's looking back at the viewer over her shoulder with a smile. Making eye contact, like looking right into the camera. So making eye contact, you get this image for one second, and then the company logo pops up. And then the ad begins in earnest. But because she's making eye contact with us, because she's turning to look at us, and because she's an attractive woman, it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter your sexual orientation, your preferences, it doesn't matter. An attractive person just looked at us. And so you look, you have no choice you're watching. Visually, they've got you already. Because someone's and we talked about this eye contact business in the last episode, we're talking about paintings of propaganda posters when they have like Uncle Sam is looking right at you.

Christine Malec:

Um hmm. Yeah.

JJ Hunt:

It's effective to be looked at. And so you see, in an instant, you are looked at by this ad, and you're engaged before you have intellectually decided you want to be engaged. That's the power of these visuals. That's the power of putting these out there. And I've probably, I've never watched that video to the end, because I'm mad at it didn't work. So well. I never watched it to the end. But I could describe it that clearly. Yeah. Because I've seen the beginning of it dozens and dozens of times, and it's borrowed its way and in my mind, I got no choice.

Christine Malec:

No, I'm sure essays have been written about this. And so this is a highly subjective answer that I'm looking for. But do you have any sense of how it affects you? And I guess maybe the only way you would know is if you went and lived in a cabin in the woods for three months or something. But I'm having trouble process like, I can't take in two voices at one time. If my partner talks to me while I'm reading something with a screen reader, my brain goes back. And so I can't relate to that kind of hyperstimulation. And so is it possible from the inside as someone who's subjected to it every day to have a sense of how it affects you?

JJ Hunt:

That's a good question. I mean, it must be affecting me, the way I the speed with which I want to engage in any kind of content, the amount of time I can spend reading a book, you know, the distractibility I'm sure all of that is affected, I mean, sighted people are subjected to so many of these ads every day, I came across some statistics, I read that there's something like 97,000 public ad spaces available to rent in New York City. 97,000 in the city. And apparently, the average American is subjected to between four and 10,000 visual ads per day. Ugh! It's an incredible number. So how that actually plays out in my life, I think you're right, I would you would need to be completely removed from it too find out if there would be is there a different sense of calm that comes over you when you're not subjected to this? I know it's hard to go to a restaurant and sit and have a conversation with my family because there's probably unless you're in a very high end restaurant, there's probably a TV there, overhead. And so you know, you have to pick your point of view, we you know, we decide what side of the table our kids sit on, based on where the kid is based on where the TVs are in the restaurant. So you're making constant decisions like that. But then so much of this like I just talked about with that, you know, cottage sweater add. So much of it is subconscious right? I have no idea how deep these the impacts go. I would be shocked if it wasn't profound. And you know what, in almost every we've talked about this before, too, and almost every like post apocalyptic movie, one of the visuals that they point to are massive ads, massive ads in urban settings, big digital, 3d holographic ads that are, you know, the size of buildings, they're huge, and it's hard to believe that it wouldn't go in that direction. Like there's nothing to indicate that we're slowing down The amount of ads, the size of ads, the infringement on our public spaces. It's only going in one direction, right? Like it's quite likely that will be some version of our future.

Christine Malec:

We love making this podcast. If you love hearing it, perhaps you'll consider supporting its creation and development by becoming a patron. We've set up a Patreon page to help cover the costs of putting the show together. You can contribute as a listener or as a sponsor to help ensure that accessible and entertaining journalism continues to reach our community. Visit patreon.com/talk Description To me that's pa t ar e o n.com/talk description to me have feedback or suggestions of what you'd like to hear about here's how to get in touch with us. Our email address is talk description to [email protected] Our Facebook page is called Talk description to me. Our website is talk description to me.com and you can follow us on Twitter at talk Description.

Black Friday history
Black Friday viral videos
The ubiquity of visual ads
Social Media Ads