Consumerism is the engine of our contemporary society. It drives the ambitions of 21st Century businesses and large corporates, resulting in a massive all-out assault on the senses of the consumer. By feeding into the frenzy associated with the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts, businesses continually re-invent the cycle, creating a culture of consumption that keeps the global economy ticking.
Indeed, as Bernard Mandeville argued in his influential work Fable of the Bees in 1714, a country’s prosperity ultimately lies in the self-interest of the consumer. This school of thought, controversial as it may have sounded back then, paints a realistic picture of the current state of affairs in the 21st Century.
Today, advertising is perhaps the biggest promoter of consumerism.
In the current age of information overload, one in which a variety of eye-catching goods and services are marketed through a multiplicity of intrusive channels and media, the average consumer’s life is perpetually in need of some product, an upgrade or a switch to a better existence. Worse still, there is an increasingly growing tendency to not only push the consumer to the point of distraction with the deluge of promotional contents, but to get him to accept alien shopping traditions, messages and cultures as a result of the global influence of consumerism.
This trend finds deeper relevance in the concept of emulation, widely regarded as a major plank of latter-day consumerism. The poor attempt to emulate the rich; the rich look up to the stupendously wealthy; modern consumers react positively to celebrity endorsement as a measure of emulating or aspiring to the perceived lifestyle or status of public figures and, more to the point, native consumers are force-fed largely alien or foreign shopping ideas that find no relevance in their cultural realities.
What does Black Friday mean to a native African or Nigerian?
To begin with, the term has no local significance but has its origins in a foreign tradition. Put differently, Black Friday represents another form of neo-colonialism; a repudiation of what makes us African and a wholesale acceptance of the sub-texts of another man’s culture without any form of questioning.
An informal name for the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, the fourth Thursday of November, which has been regarded as the beginning of the country’s Christmas shopping season since 1952, Black Friday – as a term – only began to assume widespread recognition around the early 2000s. The earliest evidence of the application of the phrase Black
Friday to the day after Thanksgiving in a shopping context suggests that the term originated in Philadelphia, where it was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.
Indeed, alternative history indicates that the first recorded use of the term – Black Friday – was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis and the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. As the phrase became more widespread, a popular explanation became that this day represented the point in the year when retailers begin to turn a profit, thus going from being “in the red” to being “in the black.
Today, many Nigerians who have little or no idea of the associated meanings or etymology of the term – Black Friday – glory in the consumerism-driven fever which advertising has helped entrench in the minds without paying heed to how the term came about.
When an entire people lose their way and emulate culturally-alien concepts, there should be a conscious effort to query the norm, to ask questions and to customize these imports to suit native circumstances or existential realities. Little wonder the famous Greek philosopher Socrates quipped: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Presently, Black Friday is widely regarded as the busiest shopping event of the year, with research indicating that spending on Black Friday 2017 raked in $7.9 billion in online sales (up 17.9% from 2016) while a whopping $700 billion was recorded throughout the November – December period, a 5.5% rise from 2016.
Perhaps, we would be better off looking inwards for a more fitting term, an original word to situate our acceptance of the annual celebration of global consumerism.
None comes to mind better than what Konga, a Nigerian e-commerce giant, has done with the term – Yakata.
Yakata, in the local Nigerian parlance, means crashing. In other words, the term is used to signify what the annual shopping fiesta has come to represent to the brand and its numerous patrons: a time to crash prices and offer consumers best deals on a wide range of goods and services.
Rather than slavishly ape an alien concept – which Black Friday remains despite the global phenomenon it has become – Konga has given us a refreshing variation on the theme by re-christening it Konga Yakata. Interestingly, Konga has also gone beyond just jumping on the Black Friday band-wagon to actually making it a sales event worth participating in.
Konga Yakata, as an original term finds more relevance with Nigerians and Africans, is indigenous and most importantly, lends a proudly local flavour to what is a very important shopping activity in the annual calendar. Through it, Konga has managed to do what other e-commerce companies have been unable to do: take a foreign concept, adapt it our local circumstances and weave/build a solid original structure around it which every patriotic Nigerian shopper should be proud of.
Robert Flynn, an e-commerce researcher from New Jersey, resides in Abuja