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Parade Sponsorship: Beyond the Floats

Parade Sponsorship: Beyond the Floats

5 Minute Read

• Parades have long been a property for a sponsor to demonstrate their support for a specific cause. 

• With consumption habits evolving, parade properties must find way to develop new sponsorable assets.

• In an effort to innovate, parades can create ancillary programming and extend the window of engagement

With St. Patrick’s Day being celebrated this week, a number of cities throughout the world recognized the day by throwing official parades. Last weekend, thousands of spectators took to the streets of Toronto to experience the city’s celebration. With the ability to draw people in and capture a community’s attention, parades have long seen interest from corporate sponsors.

While parades have long been a platform for brand’s to demonstrate their support for a specific cause, ethnic community, or tradition, the approach to activation has been limited. Notable assets like naming rights, on-site branding opportunities, and sponsored floats represent the extent of how brands have leveraged parades for many years.

As consumption habits have evolved, parade properties must find ways to develop new inventory and create ancillary events that can both scale the reach of the event and help to drive greater impact on the objectives of corporate partners. MKTG profiles the current state of parade sponsorship, the benefits it can bring to partners, and what both properties and sponsors can learn from those who have innovated. 

Current State: Parades Offer Limited Asset Breadth

Parades commonly offer sponsors limited assets with little room for innovation. Assets such as naming rights and sponsored floats allow for little opportunity to engage with consumers.

Naming Rights- Much like sports facilities, some parades offer naming rights to sponsors. Currently, Roger’s owns the naming rights to the Santa Claus Parade in Vancouver. Auckland, New Zealand’s Santa Claus Parade is known as the Farmers Santa Parade, which is sponsored by the department store Farmers. While naming rights may provide brands with an ownership position, brands should study the parade carefully before proceeding with the naming rights. Parades with deep cultural ties that sell naming rights may face backlash for over-commercializing the event.

Sponsored Floats- Brands commonly activate a parade sponsorship through the use of floats. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York is famous for their sponsored floats. Popular sponsored floats in the past have been the Aflac Duck, the Energizer Bunny, and McDonald’s Ronald McDonald. Additionally, MLSE has been a long time sponsor of the Santa Claus Parade in Toronto and has had multiple floats appear. Every year they have a float representing each of their teams, the Maple Leafs, Raptors, and Toronto FC.  While these floats can give the sponsors a presence in the parade it is one of many other floats creating a cluttered environment. Floats offer a short interaction with the audience and it can be difficult to scale beyond your moment with the crowd.

Brands Can Go Beyond Floats

In an age where properties are continually innovating to make the fan and sponsor experience more optimal, parades largely have remained the same for several years. For sponsors to maximize their investment and for parades to optimally sell themselves as a property to sponsors, they can look to examples of parades that have found ways to innovate.  

Look to Nontraditional Activations- In addition to commonly used assets such as naming rights and floats, brands can look to find creative activations within the parade. Every year before the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Chicago the Chicago River is dyed green. This event has gone on for many years and has managed to become a spectacle that attracts significant media attention. The dying of the river has been sponsored every year by the local Chicago Plumber’s Union. Parades can look to this as an example as an unorthodox event that can be tied into their parades creating a valuable asset available to sponsors.

Add Entertainment Extensions- As one of the most prominent parades in the world, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade offers a chance for other parades to borrow best practices. Since 2003 the Macy’s Parade has had top musical performers and performances from current Broadway shows into their broadcast. Incorporating elements beyond a standard float can give a parades a more refreshed feeling and provide brands a new way to bring their sponsorship to life.

Extend Window of Engagement- Most parades only occur over one day, once a year and with little lead up time to the event, giving sponsors a short engagement window to activate. However, during the world famous Carnival in Rio de Janerio, the parade is the crown jewel event in the middle of a multi-day festival. Sponsors of the festival are able to activate during the parade but also during the rest of the festival. For parades looking to engage with people beyond people attending live, parades can opt to stream the event. Last year, the Amsterdam Pride Parade hosted a live stream allowing people from all over the world to engage with the event. Over 65,000 people viewed the stream allowing the parade to reach a much larger audience.

Benefits of Parade Sponsorship

Create an Authentic Link- Through parade sponsorship, a brand demonstrates their support for what that parade stands for. If it is a Pride Parade, sponsors are demonstrating their support of the Pride community. Parades with a cause have a credibility to them that a sponsor can tap into to show an authentic link to the cause. 

Build Perception as a Brand Invested in the Community- Every parade is tied to the local community it is present in. Parades are not a turnkey event, where the same parade fits in multiple markets. Parades will have local ties such as members of the police force or local businesses. For sponsors this provides an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the community. By sponsoring such a local event, sponsors can be viewed as being present in the community. 

Easy to activate employee engagement- Parade sponsors have the opportunity to engage with their employees and offer them the opportunity to march in the parade. During last year’s Pride Parade in San Francisco a number of tech companies such as Apple, Airbnb, and Netflix were sponsors. Each sponsor had a float in the parade and had their employees march in the parade to show the company’s support. Not only are sponsors able to offer their employees a unique experience but they are able to authentically demonstrate their commitment to the parade’s message.

Parades offer sponsors an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the community and engage their employees. However, with little innovation, sponsors can have a hard time receiving value from their investment. By looking to other high profile parades, sponsors can find new ways to bring their parade sponsorship to life.  

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