The Big Business of the Macy Day Parade

Jacob Harper  |

On Thanksgiving Day millions of families and friends will gather together to eat a bunch, drink a bunch, laugh and/or fight a bunch, and generally be thankful a bunch. And, of course, watch a bunch of TV. Football is the big one, with three games stretching over the entirety f other holiday. For the less sports-minded however, football, isn’t the main attraction. It’s the Macy's (M) Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The parade is many things: gaudy floats; pop singers trying to hold a tune (or lips sync effectively) while standing atop a polystyrene replication of the Mayflower; Al Roker continuing his transition into a happy skeleton before our very eyes. Altogether, it’s a cultural institution.  And a valuable one at that.

A Squeaky-Clean Brand

Gary Singer, the CEO of branding consultants Buyology have referred to the Macy’s Day Parade as “about as good as it gets” when it comes to attracting advertisers – and of course, Macy’s themselves.

Chalk it up to the parade’s squeaky clean image. A celebration of togetherness full of balloons and cheery pop music in a tail-end autumnal, pre-winter arctic blast New York conveys an atmosphere that is about as pleasant as a daytime broadcast can get. And it does wonders for Macy’s PR.

Few cultural events have a brand name so prominently associated with them. It would be like if Coca-Cola (KO) got naming rights for the Super Bowl. The Diet Coke Football Game, perhaps.

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The (Other, Much Larger) Major Televised Event

Speaking of the Super Bowl, how does Macy’s compare? After all, the Super Bowl is the end-all-be-all in the advertising world. And for good reason: last year nearly 108 million people watched it.

Admittedly, the Macy’s Day Parade doesn’t have nearly the numbers of the football juggernaut. The Macy’s Day Parade currently attracts 30 million viewers across the country. Numbers have declined somewhat since that time, but then again numbers for basically all network broadcasts have declined precipitously since the continued adoption of cable and internet streaming.

Of note for the Macy’s Parade, however, isn’t just how many television viewers tune in. The parade is watched by an estimated 3.5 million New Yorkers, making it (very, very technically) one of the most attended events in the country.

The History, and the Money of the Float

The Macy’s Day Parade began unofficially in the '20s, and became a nationally televised event beginning in 1952. It’s become a cultural touchstone since, and was even gently lampooned by gentle punk rockers Green Day in their song “Macy’s Day Parade.”

Perhaps the Macy Day’s Parade is best known for its floats, which first began appearing in the 20s. While they tend to be made up of whimsical cartoon characters – say hello Walt Disney Co (DIS) –the floats have started to become hot advertising vehicles of their own. Take the Aflac Duck, hardly a beloved part of Americana on par with the ever-present Snoopy. But that little quacker will be right there with the rest of ‘em, a giant inflatable advertisement that will be seen by some 33 million people.

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