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Black Friday’s High Stakes Ad Environment in 2020

Black Friday and Cyber Monday took on even more meaning for brands and advertisers in 2020. Here are the the biggest factors that made it one to remember.

Every year, retailers and ad managers eye the calendar. They watch, they wait, and they plan months in advance for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s a lot like the digital ad version of the Super Bowl for brands. In many industries, verticals, and specific companies, they operate at break-even (or even at a loss) through the year. The sales volume of the holiday season putting their ledgers back in black. (Hence, the name.)

Paid social already offers many creative ways to attract buyers. The multitude of ad units and platform options create many ways for brands to create attention-getting ad experiences to capitalize on the sales potential of Black Friday.

Those options have only increased every year. The Facebook/Instagram behemoth has matured away every year from static feed placements to interactive Collections ads, Stories, and more.

Black Friday Stakes in 2020

2020 represented the highest stakes for retailers ever for online sales, with several factors at play.

COVID-19 still keeps many people from going out excessively, which sellers knew would increase online buying demand. It also created some unique situations that were first encountered in March when COVID hit: lack of warehouse space, trying to cover retail space that wasn’t being used, and delayed shipments from Chinese manufacturers were a few of them.

The forthcoming demands of Black Friday, combined with the learnings from March and April, added extra stress onto the ability to fulfill orders.

Fulfillment Stress

There was another wrinkle raising the stakes as a ripple effect from those fulfillment issues: unlike the March/April timeframe, Christmas is on a set schedule. There are shipping cut-off dates to contend with, and the ability to deliver by a deadline. That wasn’t a factor as much in the spring because it didn’t have a looming deadline.

And, for just one more log on that fire: Thanksgiving fell late this year, leaving a few less days of shopping until Christmas.

The result of all this added up to: unparalleled online demand, squeezed into a concentrated time frame, in an environment with fulfillment issues.

What Did This Mean for Advertisers?

Advertisers are used to this pressure every year, but knew this was whole new level. Indeed, the predictions came true on Thanksgiving Day, with Adobe reporting a 21.5% increase in holiday sales. That’s a total of $5.1b in sales!

2020’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday meant more had to be done and sold – in an environment where everyone was trying to do the same.

Let Creativity Reign

Advertising in this environment means a brand has to stand out. Who are the brands that did it well? Let’s look at some examples.

Story Maximization

One of the fastest-growing ad placements are Stories on Instagram. They have added inventory to it continuously, and users love the full-screen, engaging units. Advertisers love the ability to show their products in a detailed way to a captive audience.

The Gap has done a good job of using Story Ads in creative ways. The example below was actually a video that was sized for Facebook but also had an equivalent version in Stories. It did well with an eye-grabbing visual, space utilization, and constant movement of happy folks showing off the clothes:


Cross-Platform Nods

Some platform creative has a “look.” Many people associate certain fonts, layouts and styles with Instagram Stories, Snapchat or TikTok.

Particularly on TikTok, video challenges are all over. These are usually spurred on by a hashtag, use of a certain song, or some common theme or sequence that each user will make their own version of. One of those has been the “Wipe It Down” challenge, where the user is cleaning their bathroom mirror. As they wipe the mirror, a different version of themselves appears in the reflection.

Blenders eyewear smartly used this in their ads, but the interesting part?

They ran it on Facebook.


Acknowledgement of 2020

Lululemon featured a departure from the usual holiday messaging. Bucking the trend of featuring deals, bright colors, and general distraction from how different the holidays are for 2020, they addressed this year head on.

The somewhat melancholy ad has a voiceover and text essentially acknowledging what 2020 has been: a hard year. While it shows video clips where their clothes are seen, it is not at all the focus of the video.

The call to action was to watch a journey, and when it’s clicked, the user is taken to a 3:13 length video called “The Art of Feeling”, made by a Lululemon Store Ambassador.


It’s a stark departure from usual holiday fare, and an interesting risk for a brand.

In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see where the numbers wind up from 2020’s holiday rush. Not only from total sales done online, but also amounts spent for digital advertising, and whether there was a shift in spend for certain verticals.

It will tell the rest of the tale that started with Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Susan Wenograd Consultant

Susan is the Paid Media Reporter for Search Engine Journal. A marketing veteran of almost 20 years, she has managed ...

Black Friday’s High Stakes Ad Environment in 2020

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