Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Morphs Into Marketing Tool

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

With apologies to Freud, sometimes a parade is just a parade. But the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, with its huge TV viewership (50 million folks) and live attendance (3 million people regularly brave the weather to line Broadway) has indeed become more than a mere parade. As John Friend, senior vice president, Cartoon Network Enterprises, puts it, “The parade is part of a fully aligned and integrated campaign.”

During next week’s parade Cartoon Network will be debut a float to promote its “Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi” program. “It’s a part of the build strategy for the brand,” Friend says. “Macy’s is a key point, but we are using it to drive people to watch the show [which will begin airing five days a week beginning the following week] and promote DVDs, toys, and a GameBoy game that is hitting the shelves.”

This isn’t Cartoon Network’s first trip down Broadway with the parade. In 1999 a giant balloon of Dexter, the geeky protagonist of its series “Dexter’s Laboratory” floated as part of the procession for the second and last time. “In 1999, it was more about being a part of pop culture,” says Dennis Adamovich, Cartoon Network’s senior vice president of marketing. “Now it’s being used to leverage things like a special event with Toys ‘R’ Us. Using the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to leverage a brand has been elevated to a whole new level for us.”

Though Disney has been a part of the parade since Mickey Mouse made his first appearance in 1934, this year will be the first for its Disney Channel property. A balloon of JoJo, star of the Playhouse Disney animated series “JoJo’s Circus,” will appear in next week’s parade. And already the company is seeing a lift in sales of the property’s toys, says Adam Sanderson, senior vice president, brand marketing for Disney ABC Cable Networks Group.

Sanderson says Disney Channel had been “dancing” with Macy’s for the past five years about possibly joining the parade but didn’t find the right property until last year. He says the parade is important to the “JoJo” brand because it makes a statement to its retailers, licensees, and competition that Disney Channel is in the business of franchising.

“When we met with Toys ‘R’ Us, we were able to tell them we were going to be Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and that it’ll drive sales for our products,” Sanderson explains. “We were able to get two JoJo toys in Toys ‘R’ Us’s Toybook [its holiday catalog] because of the parade, and we’ve already seen a 200% increase in sales since the book came out. Sales should go through the roof after the parade.”

But Sanderson expects the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to do more than sell product for the brand. Disney will use the association as leverage in ongoing dealings with licensees, to entertain clients at a Thanksgiving-eve hospitality event and during the parade, and to win over potential advertisers.

As part of their appearance in the parade, each network will get about two minutes of airtime on NBC when its masterpiece hits Herald Square; during that time the on-air hosts will read a 30-second script about the properties.

In addition, Disney Channel will run a related primetime special the Sunday prior to the parade (the theme: making a float for a Thanksgiving Day parade). And a six-hour block of “JoJo” will air as the parade marches down Broadway, with Disney hoping that the balloon will draw viewers to the “JoJo” marathon and that viewers of “JoJo” will tune in to watch the parade.

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