Why the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Is a ‘Dream’ for Brands

Last year over 40 million viewers tuned in

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, but it will seem more like Christmas morning to the dozens of brands who will get to reach one of TV's most receptive audiences each year: the 40 million-plus who watch or stream some portion of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC.

Last year's parade averaged 22.3 million viewers, and a 6.0 rating in adults 18-49, making it the most watched nonsports prime-time telecast on the broadcast networks last fall. NBC estimated that a total of 41.3 million viewers watched all or some of the parade telecast, and hopes to attract an even larger audience this year, given that it is partnering with Verizon for the first livestream of the Macy's Parade.

Between the TV and livestream viewers and the estimated 3.5 million spectators watching the parade on the streets of New York, the Macy's Parade audience is "akin to major sporting events," said Mary Zalla, global president of consumer brands at Landor.

"You can see why brands would be attracted to that, but what the Thanksgiving Day Parade has over the sporting events is this connection to a beloved, national holiday," said Zalla. While the NFL has declining ratings this season and controversies like Colin Kaepernick's National Anthem protest, "Thanksgiving's not controversial. We all love it. It just binds everybody, so from a marketing standpoint, that's kind of a dream."

The telecast—which airs on NBC from 9 a.m. to noon, and then repeats again at 2—is always one of the year's best bets for advertisers, attracting a captive audience hours before Thanksgiving night/Black Friday sales kick off.

"It is one of our most sought after assets in our portfolio, and not just because of its proximity to the start of holiday shopping," said Alison Tarrant, evp, client partnerships, NBCUniversal. "It's also the emotional connection that consumers have with the parade and the start of the holiday season."

The parade offers "a great multigenerational viewing experience: you've got families watching in what's about as wholesome an environment as possible, and ultimately what that leads to is superior advertiser demand," Dan Lovinger, NBCUniversal Sports Sales Group chief, told Adweek last year, when he was evp, entertainment ad sales. "That's what advertisers look for: consistent ratings that they can depend on."

Last year's telecast brought in an estimated $30.1 million in ad revenue, according to Kantar Media. But brands can also get themselves prominently featured in the telecast without purchasing an ad, by participating in the parade itself, with either a character balloon or by sponsoring a float.

This year's parade will feature 16 giant character balloons (including the Pillsbury Doughboy, Ronald McDonald, SpongeBob Squarepants and a multi-character balloon for the new DreamWorks animated movie Trolls), 27 novelty/ornament balloons and "balloonicles" (a cold-air balloon/vehicle hydrid, which includes the Aflac Duck) and 26 floats, sponsored by brands like Krazy Glue, Cracker Jack, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Ocean Spray, Discover, Build-A-Bear, Hallmark Channel, Domino Sugar, Delta Air Lines and Homewood Suites by Hilton.

Macy's, not NBC, decides which brands will appear in the actual parade. The company declined multiple requests to discuss how it chooses the balloons, floats and sponsors each year.

Those sponsoring floats and balloons get an advantage that advertisers don't: an implicit endorsement from parade hosts Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker, who put their Today impartiality on hold for a day to enthusiastically tout each of those brands at some point during the parade.

"That's huge borrowed equity. It's as if they're endorsing those products," said Zalla.  "There's a reason that when television first started, the first ads were the host holding the package and talking about how much he or she loved that product. That carries meaning for people."

Verizon: Can you livestream me now?

This year, one brand has figured out a new way to be featured prominently throughout the parade: Verizon has teamed with NBCUniversal and Macy's to offer a 360-degree livestream of the parade on Verizon's YouTube page. That livestream will be hosted by actors Marlon Wayans and Olivia Culpo and utilize five 360 cameras around the parade route.

The livestream, which will include a Verizon bug throughout, won't feature any traditional ad breaks. "There will be some contextually relevant advertising of Verizon and some of their products," said Tarrant. That will include a demo of two Verizon-related products: the Google phone, Pixel and a Google Daydream View VR headset. "Those will be done live, so they're similar to an in-show integration," Tarrant added.

While the livestream will incorporate five separate 360 cameras around the parade route, viewers won't be able to control the feeds. The video will be available on Verizon's YouTube site until Friday night, at midnight.

While NBCUniversal partnered with Microsoft during the 2014 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for branded content featuring Andy Cohen and the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, the Verizon deal "is the most significant thing we've done in partnership with Macy's to have an advertiser play a prominent role" at the parade, said Tallant. "We are opening up the doors of this property."

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.