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Macy's Fuels Bieber Fever for Black Friday

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Black Friday is upon us once again, this year spreading like black plague into Thanksgiving Day itself as retailers try with unprecedented gusto to move as much merchandise as possible in this ever-corrosive economy. One can't turn on a television or go online without being reminded of Black Friday sales at every click. I'm more of a Cyber Monday shopper than a Black Friday guy, and nothing about any of these ads encourages me to crawl out of bed in darkest night to wrestle with frenzied shoppers at any store or, as people will do this year, head out on Thanksgiving evening and support the madness.

Viral campaigns are further fueling the frenzy as never before. As far as I can see, the most effective of these -- in terms of generating attention and encouraging video sharing -- is the ad Macy's premiered online last week that has big fun with Bieber Fever. It opens with Justin Bieber hopping in a town car and saying to the driver: "Yo, I'm going to Macy's Black Friday sale." The driver, a grown man, throws his hands in the air and squeals like a delighted schoolgirl. "Yeah, I know, it's pretty cool," Bieber continues, misreading the response. "It starts at midnight."

As Bieber enters Macy's he encounters two male workers busily unloading boxes. "Is this the right way?" he asks. They, too, squeal like little girls. "I'll take that as a yes," Bieber says. As he walks away the two men squeal even louder. And on it goes, with Bieber exciting every man he runs into as he sets out on his midnight shopping spree.

It's all in the name of consumerism and charity. "Get Justin Bieber's Someday gift set and we'll donate two dollars to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Only at Macy's," says a woman in voice-over as the spot winds down, ending with another reminder that "the Black Friday sale starts at midnight." (Someday by Justin Bieber is the lad's line of perfume, lotion and hair mist for girls.)

This brief video works on so many levels it's a marvel of marketing. It's easily as funny as an above-average Saturday Night Live sketch and more memorable than most (though SNL would likely take the very amusing idea of men losing their s*it over Justin Bieber to riotously naughty extremes). It imparts its timely message about Macy's Black Friday sale in an engaging and efficient manner. It adds the timeless appeal of helping those less fortunate during the holiday season at the end. And with Bieber at its center it's certain to be digitally distributed by millions of eager kids and teens, who comprise a formidable army of citizen marketers when properly aroused.

Target this year is also open at midnight on Thursday, and to help get the word out the company is once again creating videos starring the Christmas Champ. As portrayed by comedienne Maria Bamford, she's an aggressively cheerful (some might say manic) Target holiday shopper who lives for the company's two day Black Friday sale and excitedly sprints through stores in search of deals. In the process she shares (via television commercials, online videos and tweets) shopping tips and details about specials amid her lunatic preparations and exploits. It's her third year as Target's Black Friday holiday heroine.

I'll confess that I don't understand the appeal of the Christmas Champ. She isn't particularly funny or memorable, but evidently she is effective enough for Target to stick with her. (Curiously, I never noticed the many television commercials featuring this character until after I watched her videos online. It must be my freak filter at work.) Come Thursday night and Friday morning her tweets might prove helpful, but in general she's so annoying and her attempts at humor so forced and unsuccessful that I can't imagine anyone being entertained or engaged by her -- or motivated to spend money at Target. To make another reference to Saturday Night Live, the Champ makes me yearn for more sketches featuring Kristen Wiig's bargain-loving Target cashier. That's amusing annoyance done right. Imagine the campaign Target could have built around her.

This column was originally published on MediaPost.

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