Philly Was Too Smart to Fall for Small Business Saturday

We saw through American Express' marketing scheme.

We had Black Friday. Then Cyber Monday. For God’s sake, now someone’s even come up with Giving Tuesday. And in the middle of it all was Small Business Saturday. Does anyone care? I’m a small-business owner. And I do. But not for the reasons you may think.

Now in its third year, Small Business Saturday is supposed to celebrate small business. It’s a day—according to the official website and American Express (the official sponsor)—to “show your support for small businesses and the communities they help to keep thriving.” Hooray for small business! Hooray for American Express!

So was it successful? Eric Markowitz at tried valiantly to justify it, reporting that “ … this year, about 500,000 small businesses around the country participated in the event, which attracted some 100 million consumers.” Please remember that “participating” means putting a sticker with American Express’ logo on your front door and hoping for the best.

And as for the “100 million consumers,” let’s just say that the data-gathering process behind this number is suspect. The Census Bureau says there are approximately 235 million people in this country over the age of 18. That would mean almost half of them were shopping at small businesses last weekend. Astounding!

The same Inc. blog didn’t put Philadelphia in the top 10 cities that were interested in Small Business Saturday. Does this mean we don’t care about small businesses? No.

This means that we in Philadelphia are smarter.

We have more common sense. We see Small Business Saturday for what it is: a promotional event for American Express. And wow, what a success it was—for American Express. Small Business Saturday received unprecedented national media attention … for free.

Even the President took an awkward shopping trip with his daughters to an independent book store in Arlington so that he could mark the occasion.

American Express also pitched in. Besides building a new website and shouting out its love of small businesses in ad campaigns, the company also offered selected cardholders a $25 coupon to buy locally from a small business. The cost of this offer: $2.5 million. Look, I realize that American Express earned $1.25 billion in the most recent quarter alone. But it’s still a nice gesture. Of course, a moratorium on transaction fees for the day may have had a bigger impact on their small business customers but hey … just saying.

Small Business Saturday is silly. Thank you, Philadelphians, for not being duped by what’s obviously just a promotion and a way for politicians to show “they care.” But you have to give a nod to American Express. They pulled off a marketing coup. Go ahead, small-business owners, put that AmEx sticker on your door—not in honor of the event, but out of respect for that person in their marketing department who came up with this brilliant idea.