As a steadfast abhorrer of Black Friday, I spend the day after Thanksgiving on my couch. There’s very little that’s on sale in my family room, and I wouldn’t want to buy any of it anyway. One year, however, my brother spent the night at our house and had forgotten to bring some toiletry or other that we didn’t have, so we had to venture out to the local pharmacy. While I wasn’t thrilled about having to get out of my pajamas, I didn’t cringe at the idea of going to the drugstore. I mean, it wasn’t Walmart. We weren’t going to encounter hordes of glassy-eyed, sleep-deprived, sale-obsessed consumers. We would just go in, get what we needed and leave. “Man plans, God laughs,” as the saying goes.
We walked in the doors and immediately heard an announcement from the PA system: “For the next fifteen minutes, we are having a sale on Walgreen’s-brand batteries, wrapping paper, bows, and tape.” Those words set off a greed bomb of cataclysmic proportions. Suddenly, everyone in the store was consumed with the desire to buy those four items. Most of them didn’t even know they needed them. I sure as hell didn’t need any of them–at least not right then–but that didn’t matter. My brother, who despises crowds and mayhem, prepared to bolt from the store. I, however, had other plans for him.
All of a sudden I needed store-brand batteries more than I needed oxygen. I directed him to the battery aisle with instructions to get as many as he could carry. I darted off to the wrapping paper/bow/tape aisle, determined to fit a Sumo wrestler’s weight of merchandise into my hand basket. Some part of my brain knew I wasn’t being rational. The irrational part of my brain disagreed and propelled me into the crowded gift-wrap aisle. I could have sworn there were only a handful of people in the store when we walked in, but now there were hundreds of people all fighting over gift wrap, bows, and tape. At one point, when I came up for air, I caught a glimpse of my panicked brother over the bent backs of the fanatical gift-wrappers. When he caught my eye, he yelled, “They’re out of batteries.” As I felt the life drain out of me, I heard someone in another aisle scream, “There are more batteries over here.” I knew he had heard the cry as well, but was going to fake deafness. One look at my face, however, and he trotted off to find the secret cache. He knew he wouldn’t get a ride to the train station if he failed to find those batteries.
Looking back on this episode, we realized that the 15-minute sale (which kept being prolonged as demand for utter unnecessities grew) was brilliant. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t buy store-brand batteries if they were free. Yet, when they were on sale, I was ready to kill for them. And, while I use tape, I rarely use gift wrap or bows. I prefer the ease of gift bags or online delivery. Marketing techniques have moved past sexy women stroking liquor bottles to targeting our most base instinct–the desire to beat out everyone else for anything, even if we don’t need it. That instinct probably goes back to our cave-man days. After all, it probably took a lot of paper, bows, and tape to wrap up a holiday dinosaur. I’m still wondering what they used all those batteries for, though.