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The #1 Black Friday Advertising Strategy for 2020

Black Friday and Cyber Monday happen every year. You know this. If you’re a media buyer or business owner, you should already know a bit about Black Friday advertising. Every year we prepare for the marketing onslaught, and every year we can pretty much expect the same kind of thing. BUT…I’m sure we can all

By Dara Denney
Man Taking Visa Card from His Wallet

Black Friday and Cyber Monday happen every year. You know this. If you’re a media buyer or business owner, you should already know a bit about Black Friday advertising. Every year we prepare for the marketing onslaught, and every year we can pretty much expect the same kind of thing.

BUT…I’m sure we can all agree that we’ve never seen a year like 2020. And as a result, this disaster of a year calls for an entirely new strategy.

So, what do you need to do to be successful on BFCM in 2020? 

I have one major piece of advice that I give my clients. It’s real, it’s actionable, and it isn’t some vague platitude like “plan ahead”. 

The #1 piece of advice I’ll share with my clients is this: YOU NEED TO DIVERSIFY.

Stop right there! Before you roll your eyes (if you haven’t already), rest assured that I’m not going to leave you hanging with an abstract piece of wisdom. 

Here’s what I mean:

→ Diversify your media channels. Because Facebook and email alone will not cut it this year.

→ Diversify your content. Because you don’t stand a chance if you’re unable to garner attention in this ultra-competitive market.

→ Diversify your offers. Because this year, cyber week will expand and cover two full months…and your 15% off coupon is already boring, and we haven’t even hit our peak month.

In this article I’m going to dive into exactly how I’m executing all three of these tactics for my clients. 

But first, let’s talk about WHY. What is it about 2020 that makes it different from other years? 

(Note: If you don’t give a damn, feel free to jump ahead to the actionable stuff. I’ll put a wholesome GIF up so you can find it easily. Just stop scrolling when you see Keanu Reeves and/or puppies.) 

Why Will Advertising on Black Friday and Cyber Monday Differ From Previous Years?

I mean, in some ways it’s pretty obvious. Is your life normal this year? Of course not. Nothing is normal. Same goes for BFCM 2020. 

Here are the specifics about why it’ll be different, and how those differences will affect the online marketplace.

2020 is an election year in the U.S. 

This might mean increased CPMs. It DEFINITELY means increased emotions, which is worth bearing in mind when you consider the tone of your ads. 

BFCM 2020 is going to be the biggest BFCM ever. 

Yeah, yeah. You’ve heard this one before. You’ve probably heard it every year since the dawning of Cyber Monday. But this year? It’s going to be reeeeally big. Big big. Not just the biggest year yet, but I predict it’ll be bigger than the next several years. 

What makes me think that?

Check it out. Here are some pre-coronavirus predictions for the total ecommerce retail sales in 2020 and beyond:

ecommerce sales in the US

As you can see, experts estimated total sales would reach 374 billion in 2020, which would be about a 9% increase from 2019.  

Now here’s the actual data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau for the year so far:

Total and ecommerce

2020 retail ecommerce sales already add up to 347 billion and a couple hundred million in change, just in the first two quarters. That’s already pretty darn close to the total estimate for 2020, and we still have two quarters to go…including peak shopping season.

Plus, remember that 9% increase from the pre-coronavirus prediction? The second quarter of 2020 actually saw a 44% increase from the same quarter in 2019.

Since there is no sign of coronavirus hitting the dusty trail anytime soon…it’s reasonable to assume that online sales will still be flying high for the rest of 2020. 

All of which adds up to a really really extra super mega big BFCM.

In-person Black Friday is going to be all but cancelled. 

Picture Black Friday in years past. Mobs of people stampeding big box stores to get their hands on the latest Playstation or, I don’t know, Tickle Me Elmo (forgive the dated reference, and no, it’s not like I’m still mad at my parents for not getting me one.) Someone, inevitably, breaks a bone… or worse. One thing is for sure: Humans. Lots of them. Crowded together. 

If you’re picturing that in 2020 and it’s giving you hives—well, you’re not alone. 

Big retailers have already announced that in-person Black Friday 2020 is not going to look anything like it did in years past. Stores will be closed on Thanksgiving, hours will be reduced, traffic will be managed, and access will be limited to non-mob-like numbers. 

And even if that weren’t the case, customers simply aren’t going to show up in droves like they usually do—and the retailers know it. 

That’s why everyone is upping their online BFCM game. Walmart, for example, is hiring an extra 20,000 seasonal employees to work in their online fulfillment centers for the season, and a whole host of retailers are planning big online sales events in October (more on that below.) 

And you better believe that activity on paid social is going to skyrocket right along with those skyrocketing online sales. CPMs are going to go up. And vying for attention is going to be tough. 

BFCM 2020 is going to be a lot longer than usual.

2020 already seems interminable doesn’t it? Well, for those of us in the digital marketing world…it’s going to get longer. 

Target, for example, has announced that they will be doing Black Friday deals throughout the entire month of November. Walmart and others HAVE ALREADY STARTED. I don’t need to direct your attention to the calendar to drive home the point that it is…early.

Consumers have indicated that they’ll start holiday shopping early this year, much earlier than Thanksgiving.

There are lots of good reasons for them to do so: potential covid-related shipping delays, Amazon Prime Day on October 13, a big/mysterious online sales event on October 10, as well as the Prime-Day-esque “Deal Days” that Target and Walmart are planning in October. 

So that? That’s a lot of big-name competition doing a LOT of early promos. 

All of this is to say…BFCM has already started. Which is a good reason for me to stop talking about that and start talking about what the hell you should do about it.

Cue the wholesome GIF…


(If you don’t know what this Keanu/puppies GIF is doing here…good for you for skimming/efficient time management and don’t worry about it.)

BFCM 2020 Tactic #1: Diversify Your Platforms

The e-commerce roadmap to success has always included some combination of press, paid ads, and email marketing. On the paid advertising side, Facebook and Instagram are usually where the strategy pretty much starts and ends. 

But if you want to really crush BFCM 2020, sticking with those tried-and-true platforms means you’ll be missing out on a bigger slice of the pie, or worse—not getting much of any pie at all.

The two platforms I have in my back pocket for this holiday season are SMS marketing AND Snapchat. I capitalized the “and” because I recommend using both platforms together for best results… but more on that in a bit. 

Why Should You Use SMS Marketing for BFCM?

Last year more than 400 million marketing emails were sent over the course of Cyber Week. Like…what? That’s too many emails. You know what people do with 400 million emails? Delete delete delete. 

To get your message across in all that racket, you’re going to need to think outside the box. Or, think outside the inbox. Ha ha. 

That’s where SMS comes in. 90% of people open their text messages within three minutes. And yes, I mean marketing messages, not just texts from friends, family, and people saying, “Your pizza will arrive in 10 minutes.” (Pretty sure those are opened within one second.) (Maybe that’s just me.)

90%! Three minutes!

Compare that to email, which for retail gets an estimated not-quite 14% open rate. And that happens over God knows how many hours. 

This is why I highly, highly recommend using SMS to boost your retargeting efforts, ESPECIALLY for BFCM. Using SMS for retargeting is like printing money.  

To make SMS work for your brand, there are a few best practices you should consider. 

First, for legal reasons but also for don’t-be-a-jerk reasons, make sure to give people the opportunity to opt-in. 

Second, make sure you’re offering something of VALUE or people are going to opt-out faster than you can say Keanu.

And third, my personal, extra-special SMS piece of advice…

My #1 SMS Tip: Segment! 

Be sure to break up your messages between these three groups: 

  1. Those who have already purchased—so you can entice them to buy a new product. 
  2. Those who’ve added to cart but haven’t bought in the last 90 days—you KNOW they’ve been waiting for your hot offer. 
  3. The rest of your email list. 

Segmenting your SMS list this way will allow you to create personalized messages that are more likely to push recipients over the purchasing barrier.

Why Should You Use Snapchat Ads for BFCM?

Oh Snapchat. I get SO MUCH pushback about Snapchat.

But here’s the thing. You might think Snapchat is just for teenagers and maybe MAYBE a couple of weird adults who enjoy seeing themselves with dog faces…but you’re wrong.

More than 50% of daily users are over the age of 25 and have serious spending power.

Not only that, but CPMs are MUCH CHEAPER on Snapchat than on other platforms, so you can get in front of more eyeballs and drive more qualified traffic to your website for the same ad spend. 

Plus, Snapchat has great lookalike targeting…which I actually think is even better than it is on Facebook. (Yes… I went there.)

All of which is to say, if you are an advertiser and you AREN’T pushing your brands on Snapchat, that’s just pure negligence.

Which brings me to…

My #1 Snapchat Tip: Don’t overcomplicate things!

Don’t go reinventing wheels! Or ads! If you’ve got content made for Instagram Stories or any mobile-first videos you use on Facebook Ads campaigns—boom, you’ve got yourself a Snapchat ad.

Here is an example of a Facebook Ad that’s optimized for Instagram Stories that could TOTALLY work as a Snapchat Ad (that’s a three-for-one, y’all):

Black Friday Advertising

It’s simple and eye-catching and has an easy call-to-action. Throw it on Snapchat and watch the swipe-ups roll in. 

And remember I said before I’d talk more about the combination of Snapchat and SMS? Well, what I want to tell you is this: IT. REALLY. WORKS. I don’t know what kind of magic happens when the two come together (alchemy? sorcery?) but I can tell you this: My Snapchat + SMS strategy took one of my clients from $80K in monthly revenue to $500K. 

KEY TAKEAWAY: Use the magical combination of Snapchat and SMS to break through the noise of the BFCM marketing blitz. Bonus points for using SMS to retarget your warmer audiences.

BFCM 2020 Tactic #2: Diversify Your Content

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Your creative is the MOST important factor for success on Facebook Ads. Not your targeting. Not your fancy bidding strategies. Your creative. 

And when it comes to BFCM? IT’S EVEN MORE IMPORTANT. Social media is going to be absolutely flooded with ads. If you want to get any bites at all, you’re going to have to stand out. 

This year, simple Canva graphics like this one:


…ain’t gonna cut it.  

So what to do instead?

First and foremost, I recommend using VIDEO. Video ads on paid social are definitely having a major moment. The engagement rate for video ads on Facebook is almost twice as high as it is for static imagery, and users will spend 5x longer on your video ad than on your static content. 

Now, maybe you don’t have any video in your arsenal, and you don’t have the budget to put together a big fancy production?

Don’t worry about it. Creating video ads is easier than you think. Much easier.

My overall advice for creating video ads is to think about it the same way you would think about making an Instagram Stories post. Just focus on what will be engaging. It doesn’t have to be super-produced. In fact, it will probably perform better if it isn’t.

Here are two ways you can create video ads with little to no budget and also without a huge time commitment:

  1. Use User-Generated Content, or UGC. 

UGC is exactly what it sounds like—content made by users, as opposed to brands.

We already know that video ads work really well. UGC video ads…might be even better. Promoting with video made by your customers kills three birds with one stone: It captures attention, it feels authentic, AND it provides social proof right there in the ad. 

And the best part is, almost any brand can do this. You can search for content featuring your products that might already exist, or you can ask your customers to record testimonials directly from their mobile devices. Give them some motivation by starting an ambassador program, or make a special offer to folks who have already bought your product.

  1. Create a GIF or slideshow to showcase your offer. 

This is another easy way to create a video-like experience for your audience without putting together a big, expensive (and time-consuming) production. 

Instead, you can take best-performing images and put them in a slideshow. This creates movement that will catch eyes the same way that video does. This tactic is a great way to test against your best-performing static images to see whether a bit of movement works better. 

Here is a great example from Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf that uses still images to give the illusion of video:


Another tactic is to use text to create movement. Here is a super-simple but effective example from Lalo: 


Just a little text change, and boom! Your picture changes into a video. And kind of a charming one, at that.

There is one more thing to remember when making video ads. Make sure that they are mobile-first!

Most of your potential customers will come across your ad while scrolling on a mobile device. And that means you need to optimize your ads for mobile—or, in other words, make them mobile-first. 

How to do that? Easy:

→ Film videos in portrait, with a 9:16 or 5:4 aspect. This will ensure your videos can be seen on a mobile phone. 

→ Your logo should appear within the first five seconds. So you can get that brand recognition early on. 

→ Videos should be 5 to 15 seconds long. You know kids these days. And actually everyone. More than 15 seconds and people will get bored. 

→ Assume that your audience will have the sound off. If there is any kind of narration, make sure to include captions. Most people will be scrolling and viewing without turning the sound on. 

→ Edit for quick movement. Fast movement is essential for catching eyes and stopping the scroll. 

Lastly, another option you can utilize in lieu of video is a single image or carousel ad. Although as I said it’s definitely video’s moment, I still see a lot of success with these types of ads. Again, just make sure that your image is at least a step or two up the creative, eye-catching ladder from a Canva graphic, if for no other reason than because a little part of me dies every time I see one.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Step. Away. From the Canva graphic. Making video ads is easier than you think, and it’s the best way to grab attention for BFCM. Just make sure they’re mobile-first.

BFCM 2020 Tactic #3: Diversify Your Offer

My last little nugget of wisdom for you is to diversify your offer. And no, I don’t just mean that you should do a 25% off option in addition to a $100 off option. 

What I mean is, this year you should create a whole calendar of offers. Starting…pretty much now. 

I’ve already mentioned that the BFCM season will be a lot longer in 2020. Consumers are preemptively shopping for the holiday, and big retailers are already rolling out the offers.

So, I ask you, if your competitors are already starting their Q4 offers, why would anyone buy from you?

The answer is, of course, because you’re providing some value. And you’re keeping things interesting so they don’t get tired of seeing the same old 25% off sale again and again. 

Here are some offers to consider running to extend your calendar:

Last chance for holiday shipping. This is a great promo, because you don’t even need to offer a discount in order to create a sense of urgency. Simply draw attention to whatever day is the last-possible day to purchase in order to receive merchandise by the holidays. Be careful with this one though, because if you say it’s guaranteed and things don’t arrive until after Christmas…you’re in trouble. 

Discounts on specific products. Offer a discount on a specific product or category of products, and change up the item(s) on different days or weeks to keep interest piqued. 

Buy 1, Get X. Pretty self-explanatory, this one. The “x” could be “one free,” or “one 50% off” etc., whatever works for your business model. 

Special bundles. Bundles are a great way to increase average order value while also providing value to your customers. “Mystery bundles” are also a fun and engaging option, wherein you gradually reveal the items in the bundle over the course of several days.

New product offer. Got something new in the lineup? Showcase it! 

Donate to a cause. Run a promotion that offers to donate a percentage of the profit to a cause that’s important to your brand. This is a great promo for building brand loyalty, and also doesn’t have to dramatically reduce your profit margin in order to work. It’s also a good option for high-end brands that prefer not to offer discounts for fear of losing luxury appeal. 

Special gift with all purchases. This is another great option for high-end brands. (And any brand, really.)

Free shipping for orders over a certain amount. And don’t forget to set that amount a bit higher (but not too much higher) than your average order value. 

KEY TAKEAWAY: Create a sales calendar STARTING RIGHT NOW and run a variety of offers throughout the lengthy BFCM season.

Next Steps

That’s all for my BFCM pearls of wisdom! Here’s where to go from here:

  1. Create an offer calendar that starts ASAP.
  2. Create your ads! Collect UGC videos or utilize slideshows and be sure they’re mobile-first.
  3. Start a Snapchat Ads account. (Or get in touch with us and we’d be delighted to help!) 
  4. Find an SMS platform that works for you. If you operate on Shopify, there are a few apps that can help you automate the process. (We recommend Tone and Emotive, and you can read more about that in this article.)
  5. Test out different ad options, see what works, and adjust your strategy as the season progresses!

We’d love to hear about your promotion plans for BFCM 2020! Drop us a line in the comments below.

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