Anyone with doubts that the primary way in which Americans commemorate and celebrate is to shop should see all the proof they need in the announcement that Teen Vogue magazine is organizing its own private holiday dedicated to shopping called Back-to-School Saturday on this coming August 11.
The idea of Back-to-School Saturday is to fill the malls with teens and parents looking for sales bargains on clothes and school supplies. Besides giving Americans another excuse to shop for bargains, it also gets us thinking about school as an opportunity to consume, as opposed to an opportunity to learn career and life skills, gain job certification or explore how to be a thinking and independent member of a free and diverse society,
By organizing Back-to-School Saturday, Vogue Teen (whose function is akin to a training bra for the full assault consumerism of its “big sister” Vogue) has taken the latest step in the evolution of the buying as celebration ideology:
- We center traditional holidays such as Christmas around shopping.
- We create new holidays like Mother’s Day as a pretext for shopping.
- We see the emergence of unofficial grass roots holidays dedicated to shopping such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
- Now we are creating holidays which have as their rationale nothing more than shopping.
Interestingly enough, Back-to-School Saturday also represents a tour de force of contemporary advertising promotions. So far, the magazine’s ad reps have gotten major retailers like Staples, H&M, American Eagle Outfitters and Guess to offer sales, samples and coupons for the August 11 celebration; participating manufacturers include Proctor & Gamble. Even non-readers of Teen Vogue will undoubtedly see a lot about the proposed new shopping holiday. All consumers visiting malls will see the signs and the news media will certainly give feature coverage to the day for at least one day.
But will it work, which means will it not only draw lots of people to malls on August 11, but also lead to increased sales of all back-to-school related items?
The marketing executives of the participating companies seem to think it will. The New York Times article about the big day quoted a chief executive of a retail chain as saying that consumers are “increasingly interested in event-based shopping.”
That may be so, but to a large degree, sales on event days merely cannibalize sales that would occur on other days. The premise appears to be that Americans are stupid enough to buy more—to overspend their budget—at these events. I don’t think that premise is valid, and don’t think the corporations promoting this new holiday believe in it either. But coming early in the season, the sales represent cash into the businesses sooner, which means that they can pay their bills sooner and borrow less money. So even if the new day leads to no more sales, retailers might still consider it a success.
There is also the image-building part of Back-to-School Saturday. The holiday reminds us that the school term is starting, and reinforces the idea that like all holidays, challenges, private celebrations and life passages, the most appropriate way to react is to buy something. The Back-to-School Saturday holiday thus turn the late summer rite of passage into a reason to buy for anyone in America who hasn’t already gotten the message that returning to school means buying new clothes, school supplies, computers and maybe a special incentive to motivate the kids, and even a special treat for mom or dad after suffering a houseful of kids during the day for the entire summer. Instilling the buy mentality into teenage girls is particularly important because all studies show that even in the 21st century they will grow up to control most of American non-business spending.
So even if Back-to-School Saturday doesn’t lead to increased sales in the months of August and September, it will help in making certain that there are no competitors in the marketplace of ideas for the ideology of consumerism.