retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo


There are countless reasons why history might remember 2011 as a momentous year. Technological advances, the economy, the Arab Spring and the on-going European financial meltdown are likely to influence events for years or decades to come. So here’s hoping history quickly forgets “The Friday Song.”

If somehow you managed to miss “The Friday Song” phenomenon, I apologize in advance for bringing it to you. Go to YouTube, look up the original song and hit play. Then prepare to spend endless time trying to get the awful song out of your head. There’s a simple reason why I can be so certain you’ll hate it. Since the song, performed by California teenager Rebecca Black, appeared on line in March it has been played nearly 180 million times and is one of the most disliked videos in the history of YouTube. It is simply that bad.

So imagine my surprise when Kohl’s unleashed a version of the song as its Black Friday ad. Although it’s a clever play on words how could Kohl’s pick such a horrible song to pump such an important day of shopping? Apparently, because Kohl’s is far smarter than I am.

The ad was one more way for Kohl’s to stand out from the crowd. Whatever you feel about Kohl’s, this much is beyond argument: the chain knows how to sell stuff. Everything there seems to be on a 45% off sale every day of the year (or 60% off with coupons) and that plays perfectly with Kohl’s shoppers. Sales are up solidly this year and the buzz from Black Friday was excellent. Yet the ad did even more.

As Sarah, my daughter and cultural advisor on Gen Y issues, explained to me, the ad shows how Kohl’s gets it. It showed a sense of humor and a connection to current popular culture. Yahoo’s Shine magazine and countless other media observers agreed with Sarah saying the Kohl’s ad was irritating, yet it remained the only truly memorable ad from the entire pre-Thanksgiving blitz.

The discussion with Sarah reminded me of a challenge I give audiences frequently in speeches: the need to listen to those different than us. Because of her age (24), Sarah’s perspective on so many things in life is very different than mine. Sometimes we differ significantly, sometimes slightly, but because I respect my daughter’s intelligence, I try to listen. And because of that, my perspective on Kohl’s Black Friday song changed.

Yet what makes Thanksgiving great (beyond stuffing, gravy and pecan pie) is family time. After Sarah educated us on Kohl’s, my wife and I were able to provide our own pop culture lesson. Sarah joined us for a Beatles’ tribute concert, performed in a creative way by a group that literally recreates cherished old record albums. Luckily Sarah actually knows what an album is and who The Beatles were.

What she didn’t know was the breadth of their work and it shocked her to learn that specific songs she knew were written and performed by the Fab Four. For instance, Sarah knew the beautiful song “Blackbird” from two sources: it was once performed on “Glee” and was featured in a computer game called “Kingdom of Loathing.” Now she knows it was originally a Beatles song.

With that the lesson came full circle. No matter who we are, we have so much to learn from other generations and other ethnic and racial groups. All of that learning will help us understand so much about the modern world and help be current and relevant. Yet there is also so much we have to teach them and when we do that we make our families, our teams and our companies stronger. It all starts with listening and sharing, which is something we need to do more both at work and at home.

One last thing: when you go to YouTube, search for “Blackbird” instead of “The Friday Song.” You’ll thank me.


Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
KC's View:
It was interesting to read Michael’s column when he emailed it to me yesterday, because at about the same time I received an email from an MNB user who had a different reaction to the same Kohl’s commercial...

My wife and I were not happy with the Kohl's ad (and I like Kohl's, having lived in Wisconsin) that showed the woman stealing a garment from another woman's basket and cutting in front of an older woman at the checkout line (I think) while singing a stupid song.  The ad was unethical in my/our view.

They were talking about the same ads - but while Michael picked up on the music, this user found the implicit approval of obnoxious behavior to be disconcerting. (When Michael and I chatted about this, he agreed that that the visuals were disturbing.)

I know I’ve been harping on this for the past few weeks, but for some reason I find the whole lowest common denominator approach to holiday marketing to be unsettling. Not sure it is much worse than in past years - though maybe the stakes are higher because the economic situation seems more desperate - but it just seems more exploitive. And I’m not sure that marketers, by appealing to desperation and adopting lowest common denominator approaches, are doing themselves any favors in the long run.