At a time when digital technology consumes our lives, the attraction of live events is more popular than ever. This is a trend that hasn’t been lost on marketers, who increasingly look to link their brands to something that is happening outside our computer screens.
The annual Farmers Santa Parade is just such an event. Lively, fantastical and world class, the parade has seen 85 Christmases. And attendances just keep growing.
The first-ever Farmers Santa Parade was initiated in 1934 as an extension of Farmers’ commitment to trumping its competitors in the department store space with elaborate Christmas displays and exhibits, and kicked off with a lively parade.
Led by decorated carts and storybook characters, Santa left Farmers Hobson Street and circled the main Auckland shopping precinct via Karangahape Road and Queen Street.
Staff were heavily involved with the parade, making up the majority of costumed characters and helpers. Jean Walker, who was Noddy in the 1980 parade recalls the special relationship between the kids and their favourite characters.
“The little kiddies lining the street really thought I was Noddy and were chatting away to me as if I was an Enid Blyton character.”
During the 1990s, the Santa Parade’s corporate structure changed. Parade General Manager, Pam Glaser, explains that Chase Corporation, the new owners of Farmers at the time, chose a new direction for the parade when they gifted it to Auckland City in 1991.
The charitable Auckland Children’s Christmas Parade Trust was formed to run it, with the Farmers retail group staying on as a trustee and a few years later, reclaiming naming rights as a key sponsor.
The new structure opened up the opportunity to businesses to be involved, and the first branded float Glaser recalls was by the BNZ to celebrate the arrival of a pair of pandas which had been brought to Auckland Zoo from China.
“That float created a lot of buzz,” says Glaser, “and it was the first of many creative marketing campaigns that saw brands come to life in the parade.”
She says that involvement in the parade is an ideal way for a sponsor to launch a new product, engage with their audience or simply boost brand awareness with activations like samples, giveaways and in-store specials to tie in with the event.
“A sponsor could push to activate Christmas shopping early using the parade as a tool,” she says.
The Auckland Farmers Santa Parade is a tremendous focus for New Zealand shoppers. It’s expected to draw more than 100,000 attendees, of which around 20 per cent will travel from outside Auckland and overseas, and reach over 200,000 people on Facebook. The PR and brand exposure value, through press, TV exposure and social media, has been calculated at over $1 million, calculated by third-party experts.
Sponsors are able to get involved during the pre-parade period, from 12pm to 1pm, or during the parade itself from 1pm to 2.30pm, and afterwards at the Santa’s Party from 2.30pm to 5.30pm in Aotea Square.
Glaser suggests that booking a corporate grandstand could create an appropriate opportunity for a staff party or to entertain clients. Companies can also enter their staff as volunteers and use the occasion as a team building exercise.
Glaser’s parade management team are committed to helping sponsors make the best of their involvement with the parade. Sponsors in the parade can have a float or inflatable, fantasy vehicle, character or walking group, or participate in helping disadvantaged children, who are given special treatment on parade day including their own viewing area with snacks.
Among Glaser’s favourite sponsor activations is a multi-channel activation by the NZ Herald, which won them an international marketing award. They included an image of their parade float (pirate ship) on an insert, with pirate themed games and puzzles for the kids and a template of a pirate hat that the kids could fold and wear to the parade, as well as information about the Herald block viewing area (where families could experience the parade while enjoying ice blocks and other giveaways). Everybody that arrived at the Herald block in a pirate hat received a prize.
Glaser says the Herald block was exceptionally popular, and is a great example of how brands can engage with their audience in an experiential way.
“All that is possible for any brand,” she says. “Just give us your wish list!”