For many families, Thanksgiving and the winter holiday season comes with the annual return of many holiday traditions. For many families, this may include traveling to visit extended family, having family holiday brunch at the same restaurant or hosting an annual gift exchange. One tradition unique to my family growing up was attending the Thanksgiving Parade in Philadelphia.
Each year we would overtake a curb along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, or as I called it as a kid, the street with all the flags. Floats, clowns and bands marched down the road as I shared hot chocolate, baked goods and blankets with all of my cousins. Growing up, I didn't really notice all of the branding and sponsorship that took place; I was more concerned with making sure the volunteers dressed as elves got my letter to give to Santa on his float that was always the caboose of the parade. Now, as a hyper-sensitive marketing communications student, the logos and branding interest me more than if the massive character balloons are going to make it all the way to the art museum steps.
Here is a breakdown of all the pieces of marketing communications that make up one of the most festive events of the season:
Deck the Halls with Corporate Logos
The annual parade began in 1920 as a marketing opportunity for Gimbles Department Store. Employees of the store were the original volunteers and performers, guiding balloons down Market Street and marching in festive costumes. The finale of this era of the parade even consisted of Santa Clause himself climbing a Philadelphia Fire Department Ladder Truck to the eighth-floor toy department of Gimbles.
1986 brought two new title sponsors after the liquidation of Gimbles. Boscov's Department Store and 6ABC took over, the earliest sponsors I remember. The parade was renamed the 6ABC Boscov's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Once Boscov's filed for bankruptcy in 2008, IKEA took over as the parade sponsor alongside 6ABC until 2010.
From 2010 on, Dunkin' has been the title sponsor. The parade is now called the 6abc Dunkin' Thanksgiving Day Parade, and you can't go anywhere near Center City Philadelphia near Thanksgiving without seeing the trademark Dunkin' pink and orange colors.
Nearly everything in the parade has an individual sponsor; every balloon and float seems to boast a corporate logo. Despite all balloons being grounded due to weather this year, planned individual sponsors included ACME Markets, The Pennsylvania Lottery, GEICO and more.
Give the Gift of Promotional Swag
Nothing made the parade more exciting as a kid than getting a free "gift," which typically came in the form of some sort of promotional item. There is always a line of tents hosted by different businesses passing out branded hats, food samples, pom-poms and more.
This collection of sponsored tents is called the "Parade Zone" and has evolved into a sort of open-air "festival" of its own. Parade attendees can walk through and get "freebees," all while being subtly marketed too and becoming brand ambassadors themselves by boasting the free swag they receive. Companies also use this area to drive sales, as well. Restaurants and food vendors will set up here and sell snacks to attendees who have been camping out all morning. Notable brands that were found here this year include the Philly Pretzel Factory, the Philadelphia Zoo, Parx Casino and more.
Oh Come, All Ye Influential
Perhaps the biggest marketing trend in 2019 is the use of influencers and brand ambassadors. This parade is no exception to this trend with a line-up of influencer appearances. By utilizing the partnership with 6ABC, a Disney owned network, the parade is also able to have Disney characters appear in the parade, drawing in engagement from families with young children.
Not only do celebrities and characters act as brand ambassadors, but bringing in regional performers and volunteers helps to draw the massive crowd. Families gather on street corners to watch their loved ones perform with high school bands, choir groups and more. Individual sponsors also brought in local influencers and icons such as NRG's sponsored tent featuring Eagles player Carson Wentz.
Tis' the Season to Help Others
Cause-marketing is a huge part of reputation management and increasing brand loyalty among consumers. Each year the 6ABC Thanksgiving Day Parade hosts a food drive to support local food banks and charities. When I was younger, I remember this being sponsored and run by Campbell's Soup Company. The mascot cans of soup and volunteers would march the parade route with shopping carts to collect nonperishable food items.
This year, the food drive had multiple sponsors, most notably Dunkin' and ACME Markets. Those looking to participate didn't even need to be in attendance at the parade to make a difference. Individuals could donate online to the local charities, make a purchase at ACME Markets using their virtual checkout or purchase a large hot coffee at a local Dunkin' store to have one dollar donated back to the cause.
Marketing is literally all around us and is a massive part of everything we do. Being an IMC student has helped me to be more conscious about the messages we are bombarded with every day. Instead of being annoyed by the overload, I take it as a lesson. One day I will be the marketer crafting those messages, how am I going to make them impactful? How will I break beyond the congested media environment? How will I make my messaging fit organically into consumer's lives?
More About Emily:
Emily Zekonis ( @EmilyZekonis) is a graduate student studying Integrated Marketing Communications with an Area of Emphasis in Management. She is from the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania. She holds a BSJ in Strategic Communications with an area of emphasis in Public Relations from West Virginia University. Follow along with her graduate adventures on the Marketing Communications Today blog.
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