Posted November 24, 2010 by Gillian Thiebe 

Tradition Meets Promotion


As a daughter of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade fanatic, I was woken up every Thanksgiving morning to the sound of bands blaring through our house. When I was younger, I was fascinated and glued to the television; as a teen, I was annoyed and tried to go back to sleep, but regardless of the attitude I took, it is, without a doubt, a family tradition. 

Not only is it my personal family tradition, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a textbook lesson in long-term promotion built on long-lasting dedication. That commitment has developed and maintained an event that:

  • Has survived and grown for more than 80 years
  • Attracts more than 3.5 million direct viewers and a television audience that NBC estimates at 50 million
  • Generates international publicity and audiences every year
  • Is loved by children, their parents and grandparents
  • Projects an image of management and employees working closely together for decades
  • Leads consumers into the store’s greatest sales day of the year
  • Provides an international stage for many new products
  • Contributes tremendously to New York’s pride and economy and gives its employees across the nation reason to boast of their company
  • Has school bands and other performers across the nation waiting years to march in a late November parade
  • Attracts entertainment celebrities

Evidence of all that success can be found on Macy’s website and in a study conducted by three College of William & Mary students. It is also evident in the abundant media coverage the parade receives each year. The keys to that success are less known. For starters, Macy’s does not reveal how much money it spends on the parade or how much money it receives in sponsorships, television rights, etc. But some guidelines to the parade’s success, while not published as such by Macy’s, can be found in the history of the parade and from the William & Mary study.

A promotion strategy like Macy’s goes a long way for any event; some key guidelines that they follow and could be utilized for a campus event include:

  1. State a purpose for the event
    • Macy’s promotes the parade as "the official start of the holiday season" and the official arrival of Santa Claus.
  2. Maintain the focus of the event for the appropriate audience
    • Macy’s has kept its focus on children as the parade’s primary audience, promoting one annual theme: "Holiday Entertainment for Children Everywhere."
  3. Avoid trendy outcomes
    • Macy’s concentrates on family entertainment, avoiding trends toward more current, adult-oriented entertainment.
  4. Partner with suitable and respectable companies
    • Macy’s partners with some of America’s most respected companies in the sale of its famous balloons and other sponsorships, insisting that each sponsored unit "be based in entertainment, institutionally showcasing a sponsor’s promotional message."
  5. Recruit experts on the topic or celebrities when useful to draw a crowd
    • Macy’s recruits a steady stream of celebrities to provide entertainment and promote the event
  6. Utilize your student talent and intelligence
    • Macy’s features bright, energetic youth through the use of outstanding high school bands and cheerleaders from across the nation
  7. Have a backup plan or plan of action when things may go wrong
    • Macy’s practiced effective damage control over the few negatives that have struck the parade in its eight decades
  8. Keep your audience involved and active by keeping up with the times
    • Macy’s has kept pace with changing American culture without detouring from its primary theme and audience
  9. Uphold a stellar reputation
    • Macy’s has maintained a reputation for top-of-the-line entertainment by investing in state-of-the-art technology, craftsmanship, and entertainment practices

For those of you who have promotion responsibilities, there are a lot of worthwhile lessons in Macy’s commitment to these guidelines. While your university may not put on a nationally highlighted show like Macy’s, there are plenty of standing events that highlight a feeling of comradery on campus that either have or could use a steady promotion plan. 

ACUI Procure Promos can help with one aspect of promoting an event as promotional items go a long way in creating a buzz. I’d love to hear about your university traditions and what you do to promote those events in the comments below.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 

Reference: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a study by students Zarah Burstein, Tamurlaine Melby, Susannah Stoessel in the College of William & Mary "American Studies" program. 

Gillian Thiebe

Gillian Thiebe is the SUNAPSIS Business Manager at Indiana University–Bloomington.


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