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Is there an ethical marketing approach to black friday?

By September 27, 2022No Comments
‘If you overspend only to return half of your order, then items may well end up in landfill rather than be resold.’ (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Wire)

Black Friday represents one of the most lucrative events on the marketing calendar. Occurring every fourth Friday in November, the American tradition marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, with retailers slashing prices and offering special deals to entice consumers. Some companies have also started celebrating Cyber Monday, a shopping event set up in 2005 to help consumers too busy to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend make the most of discounted prices.

Until recently, Black Friday and Cyber Monday were mostly celebrated in the US. However, the tradition has spread across the world as businesses try to boost revenue before the end of the year. In a UK survey, 56% of consumers reported spending money on Black Friday deals in 2021. With so many shoppers primed to spend their hard-earned cash, it’s easy to see why companies choose to promote Black Friday deals.

However, as the world wakes up to the destructive influence of consumerism on the environment and society at large, people are starting to question the ethical implications of Black Friday. Last year, around 85% of independent businesses chose not to participate in the event, with some even closing their websites in protest. Campaigns such as Buy Nothing Day – which coincides with Black Friday – have also sprung up to highlight some of the problems with consumer culture.

So, as the politics surrounding Black Friday grows more heated, how should you approach your marketing strategy towards the end of November? To help you navigate this complex question and live up to your company’s ethical commitments, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide below.

What are the problems with Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Do Black Friday campaigns make you feel uneasy? We don’t blame you. Although Black Friday may seem like harmless fun on the surface, it perpetuates a culture of overconsumption. While many workers across the Global South struggle to meet their basic needs, consumers in countries like the US and UK can collect piles of discounted items they never even use. As many large companies exploit cheap labour from economically developing countries, this contrast is deeply unjust and unethical.

On a local level, Black Friday can also negatively affect small and independent businesses. Recent stats show that almost 18% of Black Friday spending in the US in 2021 went straight to Amazon, a megacorporation known for its ethically dubious practices. With small retailers less able to offer significant discounts or perks such as free shipping, consumers often spend their money with large companies. As a result, small brands are less able to capture the Christmas market and may lose annual revenue. In the long term, this can negatively affect small business owners’ livelihoods.

The environmental impact of Black Friday

It’s difficult to ignore the environmental impacts of consumerism. As humanity extracts more of the world’s resources to feed its addiction to consumer goods, our climate is starting to feel the effects. Consumerism drives fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, deforestation, and other harmful practices. As scientists and environmental organisations raise the alarm about climate tipping points and the need to drastically alter our consumption habits, events like Black Friday seem counterproductive at best and immoral at worst.

According to recent figures, online Black Friday shopping in the UK accounted for a staggering 429,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. On top of the emissions created by manufacturing plants, the shipping and logistics associated with online shopping are responsible for significant emissions. As the world struggles to address its harmful relationship with fossil fuels, it’s difficult (impossible, even) to justify the excesses of Black Friday.

To add insult to injury, around 80% of Black Friday purchases are discarded after a single use, contributing to problems such as marine plastic pollution. With so many environmental problems associated with Black Friday, it’s no wonder people are starting to question its long-term sustainability.

The social impact of Black Friday

As well as impacting the planet, Black Friday is associated with many social impacts. Firstly, it feeds society’s addiction to rampant consumerism, perpetuating the idea that the things we own can bring happiness. In a bid to drive revenue and remain competitive, many retailers market their goods and services as status symbols, feeding our impulse to buy stuff we don’t need and may only use once. In a consumerist society, it’s easy to forget the more important things in life, like friendship, togetherness, art, spirituality, and more.

Black Friday also impacts the workers required to produce and ship the goods consumers purchase. To deal with the increasing demand for cheap commodities, companies often outsource labour to workers in developing nations with less stringent labour laws. This practice allows them to get away with paying factory workers very low wages while raking in massive profits for their CEOs and shareholders. In turn, they deprive workers of a living wage and cause hardship in disadvantaged communities.

Black Friday can also take a significant toll on domestic workers, many of whom are compelled to work very long hours for a wage that barely covers living costs. At a time when many people want to spend time with their families, the ethics of overtime are dubious at best. Last year, a movement called Make Amazon Pay staged strikes and protests around the world to push back against the corporation’s practices during Black Friday. As more people wake up to the exploitative practices of large corporations, consumers are becoming more conscious of the workers behind their favourite goods and services.

Consumers are boycotting Black Friday

Last year, a third of UK consumers claimed that they would boycott Black Friday. Over half of the consumers surveyed also viewed Black Friday as a marketing ploy, indicating the event may be losing popularity. Beyond the people actively protesting Black Friday, many consumers are doing their bit for society and the environment by simply withdrawing their spending power. For retailers, growing discomfort with consumerism around Black Friday may mean they’ll have to rethink their marketing strategies.

An ethical approach to marketing Black Friday

While Black Friday has developed a less than favourable reputation, principled brands don’t have to dismiss the event entirely. In fact, many consumers are crying out for ethical deals that don’t harm the planet or society. Here are just a few ethical Black Friday strategies to consider:

1. Give part of your proceeds to a good cause

Rather than offering massive discounts or special offers, why not donate money to a good cause for every item bought during Black Friday? As well as boosting interest in your brand, this strategy will deter overconsumption and go some way to improving people’s lives. Alternatively, you could use Black Friday as an opportunity to donate money via your ad campaigns with help from Views for Change. It’s simple, fuss-free, and a great way to generate measurable social impact!

Zoe Roberts, founder of gift box seller Out of the Box, will donate 10% of her Black Friday profits to a local food bank. Photograph: Sarah White
Zoe Roberts, founder of gift box seller Out of the Box, will donate 10% of her Black Friday profits to a local food bank. Photograph: Sarah White

2. Promote your sustainable operations

As more consumers start rejecting the ethos behind Black Friday, the number of people on the lookout for sustainable goods is likely to increase. Remember – Black Friday marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, so the market for ethical gifts is likely to be very large. To capture this market, why not promote detailed information about your sustainable business approaches during Black Friday? Naturally, you should be transparent about your practices all year round. However, Black Friday represents a great excuse to drive the message home and provide people with the ethical alternatives they want.

3. Offer modest discounts

Although you shouldn’t be encouraging consumers to go on wild spending sprees, modest discounts can help boost interest in your brand and support the long-term sustainability of your business.

4. Use Black Friday to highlight the problems with consumerism

While the problems associated with Black Friday may seem obvious to ethical marketers, some consumers are genuinely unaware of its environmental and social impacts. An effective way to tackle this lack of knowledge is via educational marketing materials.

Why not publish a set of blogs throughout Black Friday to draw attention to issues such as waste, pollution, and poor conditions for workers? As well as equipping people with the knowledge they need to make responsible decisions, this approach will promote your brand as a potential solution to mainstream consumerism. Just remember to support your assertions with hard-hitting facts and figures to ensure transparency.

Katie and Amanda McCourt, founders of sustainable underwear firm Pantee, will switch off their website on Black Friday to all but ‘engaged members of our community’. Photograph: Nic Ford
Katie and Amanda McCourt, founders of sustainable underwear firm Pantee, will switch off their website on Black Friday to all but ‘engaged members of our community’. Photograph: Nic Ford

Brands approaching Black Friday differently

So, what does ethical Black Friday marketing look like in practice? Here are just a few examples of brands that have got it right:


In 2020, eyewear brand Pala launched their “People, Not Price” campaign to highlight the importance of businesses creating safe and fair working conditions for their workers. As well as publishing content about the people responsible for creating Pala eyewear, the brand donated 10% of all Black Friday sales to Fashion Revolution, an initiative designed to improve supply-chain transparency in the fashion industry.


A couple of years ago, ethical footwear brand Allbirds increased the price of all its goods by £1 on Friday. The extra money was donated to the climate movement Fridays for Future to highlight the importance of tackling global warming.

Public Fibre

Fashion brand Public Fibre has previously used Black Friday as an opportunity to highlight the problem of ocean pollution. As part of their “Buy More Rubbish” campaign, the brand “sold” some of the most discarded items clogging up the world’s oceans, including plastic bottles and straws, food wrappers, and facemasks. Public Fibre then donated the proceeds to The Ocean Cleanup, an organisation committed to developing cutting-edge technologies to eliminate plastic from our oceans.


In 2021, ethical US fashion brand Raeburn disabled their e-commerce site during Black Friday, ensuring consumers couldn’t purchase any new items. The company also allowed second-hand clothing platform Responsible to take over its physical store, encouraging Black Friday shoppers to invest in pre-loved pieces.


Last year, outdoor garment retailers dryrobe chose to close their offices on Black Friday and give their staff a paid day off to do outdoor activities. The company made this decision to align with the values of the #OptOut movement, a campaign encouraging consumers to avoid shopping on Black Friday and get outdoors instead.


London-based sustainable jewellery retailers Birdsong used Black Friday 2020 as an opportunity to launch its Transparent Friday Manifesto. This rousing manifesto educated consumers about the negative impact of Black Friday, offering detailed financial information about how much Birdsong’s items cost to make, its total yearly revenue, how much its employees earn, and how much its CEO takes home. The logic behind this move was to educate consumers about the true cost of running a sustainable company that doesn’t exploit workers or the environment.

Once customers had read the manifesto, Birdsong gave them the option to use a 15% or 10% discount on its goods. Alternatively, customers were allowed to add a tip to their order to support the company’s mission.

Ace your ethical Black Friday marketing campaign with ViewsForChange

While people are starting to realise the ethical problems associated with Black Friday, it’s not going away any time soon. Rather than ignore the event completely, ethical marketers can use it as an excuse to educate their audiences about the harms of consumerism and provide guilt-free alternatives to mainstream Black Friday deals. As you can see, there are plenty of creative ways for ethical brands to mark the occasion, so start brainstorming now!

If you’re interested in making your marketing strategies more ethical all year round, why not sign up for Views for Change? Our cutting-edge technologies allow businesses to donate to important causes while advertising their goods and services. To find out more, don’t hesitate to book a demo today!

Nicola Telford

CEO & Co-Founder of Views For Change.

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