Blog Excerpts

How "Black Friday" Spawned "Cyber Monday"

In case you haven't heard, today is "Cyber Monday," the day that retailers have decided we should all be flocking to make online purchases for our holiday gift list. Last year, Ben Zimmer explained how the advent of "Black Friday" led to the branding of "Cyber Monday" and other days in the Holy Week of shopping.

An excerpt from Ben's Word Routes column:

Retailers, not content with branding products, have lately taken to branding days of the week, as a way to hype the holiday shopping rush. "Black Friday," the name for the day after Thanskgiving, was transformed from a negative to a positive by some clever etymological mythologizing (make that etymythologizing). Then the Monday after Thanksgiving was christened "Cyber Monday," and now some marketers would like to extend that to a "Cyber Week."

If you don't know the true story behind "Black Friday," check out my Word Routes column and my interview on WBUR's "Here & Now." What started out as a pejorative term from Philadelphia traffic cops was successfully rebranded via a false etymology claiming that "Black Friday" was the day that retailers turned a profit on the year, going "in the black." With Black Friday recognized as a day to get the jump on the shopping season, retail marketers have set their sights on other days of the week.

In 2005, the online retail association Shop.org coined "Cyber Monday" for the Monday after Thanksgiving, in a conscious effort to pump up enthusiasm for e-commerce. [...] Last year, comScore reported that Cyber Monday had indeed become the biggest online shopping day of the year, and it also extended the concept to a post-Thanksgiving "Cyber Week." This year, Walmart wants us to shop for online deals for the entirety of "Cyber Week," which began on Saturday (the day after Black Friday — also known as "Small Business Saturday," in an initiative begun by American Express two years ago).

Regardless of whether Walmart and other retailers successfully extend Cyber Monday into a weeklong buying binge, I find it remarkable that cyber- continues to have legs in the realm of marketing, when it seems rather tired elsewhere. [...] As with the rebranding of "Black Friday," marketing minds have taken lexical lemons and made lemonade, revitalizing the played-out cyber- combining form as a successful advertising gambit. Just as our conspicuous consumption at this time of year can get out of hand, our consumption of language might not be so pretty either.

Read the whole thing here. You can hear more about the proliferation of names for shopping days in Ben's interview with the public radio show Marketplace. And for more on the unexpected revival of cyber, check out Ben's Wall Street Journal column and io9's "The Bizarre Evolution of the Word 'Cyber.'"


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