We no longer buy things at sales. We buy them at sales events. Used to be there were stores and stores sold goods and occasionally those good were sold at a discount and the world deemed these occasions “sales.” But at some point in time, these mere mortal of sales became elevated into the more superhuman sounding “sales events.” Auto dealers in particular are fond of them — the National Sales Event, the Summer Sales Event, the Winter Sales Event.
It’s as if the brilliant marketing minds got together and decided that in this era of Amazon Prime, deep online discounts and ongoing retailer struggles that sales alone are not exciting enough. There must instead be an event.
The term “event” used to mean an unexpected circumstance, something out of the ordinary, a moment marked in time that will forever be etched in memory and history books. Kennedy being shot? Event. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Event. Even the wedding of Prince William and Kate? That passes as an event.
Semi-annual shoe clearances at the local mall? Not quite an event of the same caliber. White sales were also a big deal back in those prehistoric shopping days of yore but even those weren’t anointed with “event.”
Granted, there once were actual retail events in the true meaning of the word. Anybody remember Black Friday? For those older than, say, 15, Black Friday was the day after Thanksgiving which marked the official start of the holiday shopping season. People camped out early, patrons fought over cut-rate televisions and tennis shoes, and the deals to be had were never to be replicated again until Christmas Eve. This was an event!
But then Black Friday became White Thursday and Cyber Monday found a following and don’t forget Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday. Every day for a week became a sale and ultimately every sale year-round became an event.
Television also took a cue and now we no longer have shows or series. We have events. The television event of the year! The network event of the season! In the miniseries heyday of the 1980s this branding might work, but now? Not so much. There are no more highly-anticipated showings of “The Thorn Birds” and “North and South.” The fear-inducing nuclear tale “The Day After” — now that was an “event,” deserved of capital letters and quotation marks. The yearly showing of “The Wizard of Oz” was also rightfully deemed an event. In the days before VCRs, Netflix and demand television, the classic flick showed once and only once. There was no pause, no rewind. Flip on the channel or forget altogether and prepare to wait a whole year to learn if Dorothy ever made it back to Kansas.
The other irritant about everything being tagged with the secondary term “event” is the redundancy. A sale is an event. A television viewing is an event. So saying “sales event” or “TV event” is superfluous. File it in the same category as those who say ATM machine or PIN number. Or, a personal favorite, the Taco Bell ads touting its carne asada steak taco.
The question now is what new pitch comes next. If “event” is the new normal, what term will denote the new out-of-the-ordinary phenomenon. I’m sure somebody will think of something fitting — eventually.
Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor: email@example.com.