It starts with a scene of touch football in the yard. Next, a woman and a girl, cooking together in the kitchen. “Imagine a world,” a soothing voice intones, “where the only thing you have to wrestle for on Thanksgiving is the last piece of pumpkin pie, and the only place we camped out was in front of a fire, and not the parking lot of a store.” And, then, more scenes: a man, cuddling with kids on a couch. An older woman, rolling pie dough on the counter. A fire, crackling in the fireplace. Warmth. Wine. Togetherness. Laughter.
It’s an ad, unsurprisingly, but it’s an ad with a strange objective: to tell you not to buy stuff. Or, at least, to spend a day not buying stuff. “At T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods, we’re closed on Thanksgiving,” the spot’s velvet-voiced narrator informs us, “because family time comes first.” And then: more music. More scenes of familiar/familial delights. More laughter. More pie. The whole thing concludes: “Let’s put more value on what really matters. This season, bring back the holidays—with T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods.”
It’s a great ad, and not just because, as with most great ads, it ends up making you kind of hungry for pie. The spot also accomplishes a canny rhetorical trick: It features brands invoking—on the surface, at least—a boycott against themselves. It is marketing in the guise of anti-marketing. But while T.J. Maxx, Marshall’s, and HomeGoods may be particularly vocal in denouncing the hyper-commercialism of the Thanksgiving weekend, they are definitely not alone in it. This year Apple, Costco, Crate & Barrel, IKEA, Nordstrom, Sam’s Club, Staples, and many other retailers—in response to the discount creep that has led to Black “Friday” sales commencing on Thursday—have announced that they, too, will be closed on Thanksgiving. (Also known, in this context, as “Black Friday Eve” and “Black Thursday” and, slightly more poetically, “Gray Friday.”)