Another Adaptation in a Strange Year

Macy's day Parade Smokey The Bear Sesame Street Licensing International

The huge promotional platform known as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will be staged as usual – at least as far as the TV audience is concerned.

Broadcast Production
Though details have yet to be disclosed, the struggling department store said that it’s morphing its signature event this year into “a television broadcast-only production with staging for parade elements [i.e. balloons, floats and musical acts] focused solely in/around the Herald Square area of Midtown Manhattan.” The balloons reportedly will be sent aloft to be recorded in the area at various times over a two-day period. Professional musicians will replace the usual high school and college marching bands.

The number of brands and characters that use the parade as a major marketing event could fill a good-sized hall at a virtual licensing show. Floats and balloons in last year’s event included Peanuts, Sesame Street, Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Harold the Fireman (a Macy’s original character), Ronald McDonald, Blue’s Clues, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dr. Seuss, SpongeBob SquarePants, Smokey Bear, The Elf on the Shelf, Pillsbury Doughboy, and Disney’s Frozen.

They pay dearly for the privilege. One longtime participant says Macy’s charges “a few hundred thousand” to create a balloon (which can be used for 3-4 years), plus an additional “couple hundred thousand” annually as a flight fee. The return on that investment? “Billions of impressions; people watch around the world,” says this executive, saying that the visibility in the U.S. trails only the Super Bowl and The Oscars as a single telecast.

They also get to share a “marketing moment” with licensees and other partners – “It’s the thing I would get the most requests about,” said one past participant. One prominent licensing agent proudly recounts his experience as a balloon handler one year; sadly, as an anti-COVID measure, balloons will be tethered to specially outfitted trucks this year instead of people on the ground.

In this latest commercial adaptation to a pandemic-fractured year, Macy’s finds a way to preserve the annual Thanksgiving boost for its own brand, and maintain an income stream (TV rights, balloon flight fees, plus those from floats and Broadway performances) that reportedly more than pays for the cost of maintaining the massive number of costumes as well as the cavernous Parade Studio in northern New Jersey.

So Macy’s and its marching brands will maintain a semblance of normalcy for this traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Oh, right, that’s changed too.

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