Brands that won (or lost) Black Friday

Black Friday 2021

When people talk about the first week of the holiday shopping season starting with Black Friday, it’s all about sales. But it's also an important time for brands to capture people’s imagination and reinforce their brand positioning.

Sometimes brands lean so far into selling, that they miss a huge opportunity to further relationships that aren’t purely transactional. Let’s take a moment to recognize three brands that made actions to bring their brand to life, and three that didn’t understand the assignment.

The winners


Spotify Wrapped was released on December 1st and they immediately had a banger on their hands. It is a year-in-review slideshow with you and your listening history at the center. It’s a playful reminder of the value you got from Spotify over the year and, we’d argue, a much better investment than above-the-line advertising. They understand that having an immersive and personal product experience is the best way to build their brand.

What makes it so great is its innate shareability. Did I need to know that Deep House was my friend’s most listened to genre of 2021? Not at all. But was it easy for them to share it on Instagram? Absolutely. And just like that Spotify enabled the cultural conversation and anyone without a Spotify account had one more reason to get onboard.


This is the 7th year that REI has leaned into #OptOutside, closing its stores on Black Friday to encourage people to enjoy time outdoors. Two aspects of this make it a winner. First, it represents real action that is directly, authentically connection to their brand purpose. And second, the consistency to commit to this for the long-term builds trust. You know what REI cares about and that are committed to delivering on it.


This year Expedia Group looked to hijack holiday shopping with messaging to choose experiences over stuff. "This Black Friday do you want a TV, or do you want the place on the TV?"

The last couple of years have taken a toll on the travel industry as consumers increased spending on household items while they were largely homebound. While the world is opening back up, it would be unwise for Expedia to be too firm about telling everyone to get back out there and travel. For many, traveling isn’t yet an option. Remind people about the kinds of experience you can get paired against a physical gift struck the right chord. 

Would you rather get a new TV or visit Santorini, Greece?

Expedia Black Friday commercial

The losers


Fresh off a new corporate rebranding, it's no secret that Meta has a long-term reputation problem. They also have a number of interesting products they’d like you to buy. What happens when a brand has lost the narrative? They make a Facebook Portal commercial like this one.

My 14-year old’s thoughts on it: “it’s one more way for them to get your data.” So while the messaging about connecting family may be heartwarming, perhaps they’d have been better off addressing the broader trust issues.


Wait, what? How can Amazon be a loser when they had record-breaking sales over the post-Thanksgiving weekend?

Strikes and protests across the US, UK, and Europe are a bad look. Follow that with TikTok memes showing dystopian gamification in Amazon warehouses as additional proof that Amazon is increasingly perceived as a brand that that drives societal harm.  

While retail sales may be proof that Amazon is winning now, brand perception suggests that consumer stick with them because of functional benefits, not brand love. That leaves the door open for competitors with purpose-driven brands.