Research Insights

How 2020 Has Transformed Black Friday & Holiday Brand Advertising

5 min read
Insights straight to your inbox

Photo by Jay Clark via Unsplash

So much has changed in a year. This time last year we’d just finished Halloween, Thanksgiving was coming up, and the biggest question was the best way to cook a turkey. 

From a brand perspective, conversations about Black Friday revolved around how Cyber Monday was making inroads at the expense of Black Friday, as consumers moved further online. 

Come 2020 and all that has changed, thanks to a global pandemic. Halloween was a shadow of its former self, Thanksgiving is likely to be much less social  this year, and come Black Friday, there will be no massive crowds bursting through physical store doors in the early morning hours. The competitive landscape is also changing with Amazon moving Prime Day from mid July to a two-day online shopping event on October 13-14. Consumer online shopping behavior and trends are shifting faster than ever before to the digital and various social media channel arenas and this is impacting Brands' Digital and Social Strategy. Given this transformation, we expect a huge focus on Cyber Week this year, even greater than anticipated as well as continued brand spend on social media as part of the upcoming holiday season. 

Using the BrandTotal platform, we’ve analyzed how paid social media strategies have changed from last year to this one. The results are surprising, interesting, and informative all at once -- and brands can learn key lessons when it comes to adapting paid social media to the new reality. 

While this report covers the shopping days leading up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this information can be extrapolated for the entire holiday shopping season trends. BrandTotal tailors similar research insights for its customer brands, competitive landscape, and vertical industry.

In this particular case, learnings included:

  • Budget Optimization and Cost Savings: Channels that don’t work for certain brands were cut entirely (in this case Twitter).
  • Channel Growth: Instagram is experiencing significant growth as a channel for brands.
  • Conversion: As brands discover what works and what doesn’t, messaging is more direct. This will also influence Brand Spend and we anticipate additional shifts in media mix investments. 
  • Competitive Displacement: Creatives and positioning highlight specific deals and savings.
  • Timing: Campaigns this year started much earlier than in previous years in order to obtain a first-mover advantage and jumpstart sales, given most consumers expect to do their shopping online due to the pandemic. We also found ad creative, positioning, and messaging focused on “Early” messaging and CTAs. This is also likely due to the shift in the competitive landscape with Prime Day moving from July 15 in 2019 to October 13-14 in 2020. 
  • Public Versus Dark Advertising: Public posts focused on awareness of early start date and extended time period of the “shopping month,” while dark posts focus heavily on pushing hyper-targeted deals.
  • Communications: Most of the messaging focused around price and early shopping as consumers are understandably more price-conscious this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Using the BrandTotal Platform

BrandTotal provides the industry’s most trusted and robust Social Competitive Intelligence and Brand Analytics platform. We empower forward-thinking Fortune 1000 brand marketers worldwide to make better strategic and tactical brand decisions with data, not feelings.

Until now, marketers measured brand lift, social competitive intelligence and brand analytics, and performance through a narrow lens: a one-dimensional data layer -- your own data, and that data was primarily performance data such as CTR/CPM. You might have a social listening tool, but we know that’s only a one-dimensional layer of your brand’s impact; it’s an echo chamber especially on social platforms where consumers don't just click -- they think, they feel, they interact, they fall in love, they hate. 

But here is the thing: you also measured yourself in a silo. That is, you against yourself and maybe some additional competitive data from digital, TV, and offline monitoring tools and panels, but you never had insight into your entire competitive landscape. For example, you couldn’t:

  • See into your competitors’ hidden dark marketing social ads, and that's about 85% of social ads in 2020, so you saw only 15% of your competitors' ads. 
  • Understand how social media consumers reacted, felt, and engaged with your campaigns versus your competitors’ campaigns, dark and public posts, ads, messaging, positioning, or creative 
  • Gain access to the entire universe of social consumer interaction, attitude, engagement, and sentiment with competitors’ brands 
  • Understand and analyze what's working, what’s not working, your competitors’  brand spend, strategy, and so much more. Imagine 360-degree A/B/C testing on steroids 

With in-depth visibility and performance Intelligence Layers available for all the key metrics, the BrandTotal platform allows us to see farther than ever before into individual brands, their industries and competitors, and their strategies. From “dark,” highly targeted ads hidden from general public, share of voice, share of topic, spend, sentiment, and engagement, to stats on which social media channels are successfully carrying which messages, what are the saturated versus underutilized white space ROI opportunities -- these are key pieces of information that are invaluable to any forward-thinking marketer running consumer-facing digital advertising campaigns. 

Our Jumping-off Point

As mentioned above, we wanted to check how this unprecedented year affected brands’ paid social strategies, focusing mainly on the upcoming Black Friday (November 27) and Cyber Monday (November 30). We used the period of October 1-November 20 for our analysis, for both 2019 and 2020, in order to compare how paid social media was used by leading retail brands in the run-up to these shopping days. We’re less interested in the days right before these mega events because the strategies used on these days tend to be very specific, promoting individual products.

Rather, we wanted to see what the overall brand strategy was, how it has changed, what the underutilized and saturated whitespace opportunities for seasonal ad campaigns are, competitive trends as well as how a company can adapt to stand out, acquire new consumers, gain greater share of voice, and pivot strategy and tactics to win. 

To correctly compare changes from year to year, we selected various leading retail brands that are dominant during the holiday shopping season. By looking at their change of tactics and communication for Black Friday/Cyber Monday, we tried to uncover the main shifts and trends that occurred during this crazy year and that will surely impact the upcoming Holiday shopping season.  


2020: Big push starting mid-October
2019: Quiet until November 5, with ramped-up spending onwards 

In 2019, spending around Black Friday campaigns was muted until the beginning of November, where it started accelerating quickly towards the sales days themselves. In 2020, however, this spending began much earlier, in mid-October, with pre-Black Friday deals as well as in response to Amazon Prime Day (October 13-14, 2020). This early sales push makes sense in light of the fact that brands are conscious of cash flow, and the need to take advantage of the increase in social shopping due to consumers not wanting (or unable to) venture out to physical stores. Brands simply did not want to wait until November to start their campaigns. It’s also the result of increased competition, with brands maneuvering to be the first to appeal to consumers – a crucial edge in a time when prices can be easily compared across platforms.

Drilling down into three of the most dominant brands in this shopping month (Walmart, Best Buy, and Target -- from a capability perspective, we can see numerous additional competitive brands through the Share of Voice Intelligence Layer), we can see that although Target is leading in overall SOV (for all communications pushed out within the timeframe of this report), when looking only at shopping month messages, Walmart is the most dominant brand pushing Black Friday communications and offers, with almost 70% in volume across all Black Friday ads.

Black Friday - Blog Modules__Page_2

Read the full research insights report

Download "How 2020 Has Transformed Black Friday & Holiday Advertising"

Uncover key paid social strategies for Black Friday and Cyber Monday and see upcoming trends that will influence the holiday consumer shopping season. 

Download Report