Even as 160-year-old Macy's is struggling to remain relevant to digitally minded shoppers, the retailer's Thanksgiving Day parade has not missed a step. For the 92nd iteration this week, 59 balloons and 26 floats representing a host of brands will join formation Thursday morning on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.
For some new brands, like Kinder, the European chocolate company that entered the U.S. market last year and is a first-time parade participant, the three-hour event offers a way to build awareness. For others, the parade allows for engagement with fans over social media.
"The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a tradition for many families to gather and watch, and because of that is the right place for us to invest marketing dollars," says Cassi Dermody, marketing communications manager at Pillsbury, which has its Doughboy balloon in the event.
Along with Pillsbury, 39 other brands will participate in the parade this year, up from 35 a decade ago, according to a Macy's spokesperson. Another new participant is Netflix, which will display a float with the elfin protagonists from its new Christmas special.
The exposure for brands is hard to deny. According to Nielsen, the 2017 march averaged 24.1 million viewers on NBC. It was the third-highest-rated parade for Macy's since Nielsen first introduced its tracking system.
While Macy's would not discuss the price of participation, a CBS News report last year estimated a new balloon costs a marketer roughly $190,000 for construction and a spot in the parade. That's less than the average cost of a 30-second commercial during the 2017 parade, which was more than $272,800, according to iSpot.tv. (Brands that purchased multiple spots paid less per unit.)
The success of the parade, alongside other small-screen events such as the Oscars and the Grammys, underscores the popularity of live televised events as an effective advertising tool.
"A brand chooses to participate because of the exposure of the parade—it's not about the financial ROI," says Jordan Dabby, VP of partnership marketing at Macy's. "They're doing it to connect with fans." He notes that in addition to the NBC broadcast, the event is also livestreamed on Verizon and watched by 3.5 million spectators in Manhattan.
Kinder sees so much potential in the exposure it will get through the parade that it inked a three-year deal. On Thursday, viewers will see the chocolatier's whimsical chocolate factory float, complete with a performing Ashley Tisdale.
"It's a huge media event and, obviously, Kinder is a brand that we're bringing over from Europe, and one of the things we want to establish with that is really ingraining it in American culture," says Noah Szporn, VP of marketing, Kinder North America. "When we think of activations, there are not too many of them that have the broad reach and embody that spirit."
Nickelodeon has been a participant since 1997 and is expanding its relationship this year to include three balloons and two floats—one of its largest representations, according to Charlotte Castillo, senior VP of global franchise planning. The media company will have a team manning the Nickelodeon and Nickelodeon Jr. social media feeds during the event.
"The parade is an additional touchpoint," says Castillo. "Whether on TV or in real life, to see your favorite character larger than life floating down in the parade, it adds another level of connection and engagement."
Contributing: Anthony Crupi, Jessica Wohl