The Thanksgiving parade that keeps giving and giving

November 19, 2012

Every Thanksgiving, one brand stands above all: Macy’s.


The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade has been rolling through Manhattan towards the 34th Street flagship since 1924 (with a couple of years off during WWII). It was memorialized on film in the Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street. It is recreated daily during the holiday season in Universal Studios in Orlando. And it continues to demand 3 hours of network television coverage on Thanksgiving morning. The parade is even broadcast live on the radio in New York. (If you think parades are kind of boring to watch in person for 3 hours, try listening to one on the radio.)

The Macy’s 34th Street store is arguably the single most famous flagship store in the US, perhaps even the world – due in large part to this annual event and to the bold (and no longer factual) claim as “The World’s Largest Store.”

In a world where the department store model has become decreasingly relevant, Macy’s has thrived. Founder RH Macy saw the connection between entertainment and commerce – and always had a penchant for promotion. When the store moved to Herald Square, several years after founder RH Macy’s death, themed exhibits, particularly around Christmas, were seen as a draw to get folks to come all the way uptown to 34th Street. In addition to the parade, the flagship is renowned for its Santaland exhibit in the weeks that follow. (This is the same Santaland, of course, that is brilliantly and hilariously memorialized in David Sedaris’s classic Santaland Diaries, first broadcast on NPR in 1992)

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is the granddaddy of all corporate sponsorships. Macy’s has ridden the parade to take the store well beyond its roots of a single flagship in New York City, including the acquisitions of a host of other storied regional department store brands. Macy’s today is a national retail brand atop a publicly held corporation with a market cap approaching $16 billion. The pomp of the parade offers the appeal of a throwback to simpler times, when elaborate floats along Main Street brought communities together without the aid of social networks and handheld devices. It is also a singular commercial happening that kicks off the holiday shopping season while paying dividends to the Macy’s brand for the entire calendar year.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours – and to the brand that has been getting us into the holiday mood for the past 86 years.

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