The Power of Gratitude: Macy’s and Thanksgiving

Macy’s launched its first Thanksgiving day parade 89 years ago featuring employees strutting down 34th Street amid floats and zoo animals on loan from Central Park—the precursor to today’s event, with its two dozen marching bands and more than 20 helium-filled floats. In many ways, it’s a branding spectacular, as companies fill the skies with corporate and cultural icons, from Ronald McDonald to Snoopy to an Angry Bird.

But, according to recent insights from researchers, what Macy’s accomplishes with its annual holiday parade may trump a simple showcase of corporate logos: by hosting one of the country’s biggest holiday events and gracing the TV sets of millions of Americans with a positive and uplifting holiday tradition, they might just be inspiring a powerful sense of gratitude.

According to business theorist Mark Bonchek’s recent concept in the Harvard Business Review, Macy’s has not just developed a following for its annual parade but also a real sense of gratitude amongst consumers, who are more likely to look favorably upon the company when it comes time to make retail purchases because of the positive association.

As Bonchek writes, “there is a feeling of appreciation and an expression of that appreciation through some kind of action.” Maybe in exchange for the goodwill towards an annual holiday tradition, consumers might consider Macy’s for a clothing purchase, or at least look twice at the company’s holiday deals. It’s all part of what Bonchek calls “a well-articulated shared purpose”—Macy’s genuinely wants to celebrate the holiday, and Americans genuinely enjoy the celebration.

And as Bonchek reminds, it’s the authenticity of the gesture that counts. So while Macy’s Thanksgiving spectacle may feature some brazen marketing and branding and be blandly commercial at times, there’s no doubting the company’s sincere expense in terms of time and effort in throwing the parade each year, without fail. Customers react to that sense of tradition and, on this day of giving thanks, might throw an extra thanks towards one of the country’s oldest retailers.

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