I was in the United States on Friday last week. They call it ‘Black Friday’ and it’s always the day after the most celebrated public holiday in the US, Thanksgiving.
It seemed to me to be quite appropriate that the day on which the entire nation gave thanks for the American way should be followed by one that is capitalism on steroids.
Black Friday is a day of retail sales so-called because queues of bargain hunters start lining the sidewalks outside the big stores from the evening before and traffic bringing even more shoppers to town, clogs the roads. It is a day of pushing and shoving, traffic jams and hype.
For weeks before, the media is full of Black Friday advertising, all tempting the citizens of America with bargain prices, the most alluring of which are called ‘door-stoppers’ – the inference being that they’re so good the door to the store is bound to be jammed solid.
This year though, it was not so much Black Friday but more of a sort of dark grey Friday.
Not because of tough economic times but rather because 30% more Americans decided to avoid the traffic and getting embroiled in door-stopping, but rather to make all their purchases online.
Which is dead simple in the US. I went into a shop earlier in the week looking for an attachment for my camera. The assistant apologised that they didn’t have anything in stock but gave me the web address of the supplier and said: “Just buy it online and they’ll deliver in the morning.” They did.
But, while TV, radio, online and newspapers all benefitted from frenetic ad spend for Black Friday, the increase in online purchasing had a clear message for the media owners.
More and more consumers are not only shooing online but using the online environment to source products and services.
A number of people to whom I spoke in Miami last week said that while they still took notice of ads on TV, radio and newspapers, they tended to use the increasing number of websites devoted to making price comparisons, for example, of all the major retail outlets and suppliers.
Which means that instead of just taking an advertiser’s word for “the best prices in town” consumers are using online apps and tools to get the real deal.
I am not suggesting for a moment that convectional retail advertising on TV, radio and newspapers is on death row, but there is no question that online is taking mighty bites out of their revenue.
The relatively high cost and painfully slow data speeds in South Africa have given our traditional above the line media some breathing space.
But, as prices drop and data speeds increase, more and more South Africans will rely on the interweb and not retail advertising to tell them where the best deals are.
Our media needs to take notice of what is happening in the USA where, for example, newspapers have just registered their umpteenth consecutive quarter of revenue decline.
It’s going to take a significant paradigm shift to develop workable revenue models.
Which, in my opinion, will start with the notion that the consumer of the future will not sit around waiting for ads but will rather use the internet to go and look for whatever they want.
And there is no reason why our traditional mass media cannot get in on the action.
That is if they can, for a moment, stop thinking like newspaper, radio and television owners but rather consider themselves multi-media commercial and editorial content providers.