It seems like it should be a rigorous process for a brand, or a character, to achieve the crowning achievement of being featured as a balloon in the Macy’s Day Parade. But it doesn’t work that way.
Way back when, when I was working in marketing for Lever Brothers on Snuggle Fabric Softener, I learned how it all really worked. It was simple economics. If you could pay, you could get your brand, or character, into the parade.
You might not see him so much now, but Snuggle was the cuddly bear mascot for the Snuggle fabric softener brand. In network TV commercials back in the day, we were forever throwing the Snuggle Bear into a pile of super-soft towels. They were so soft because, and you have already guessed it, the head-of-household had used Snuggle fabric with every load of laundry. You see, back then, parents expressed their love for their family through soft towels.
And yes, I know it all sounds silly now.
Anyways, Lever Brothers had created a Snuggle Balloon for the Macy’s Day Parade in 1989, and we ran it again in 1990. My firstborn was just a month old then, so I decided to forego the VIP seats. In retrospect, I do regret that!
Faster Than A Speeder Bullet
Still, I’m always surprised that Superman, who debuted in 1938, appeared as a balloon in the 1940 Macy’s Day parade. According to the Macy’s Fandom Wiki, it was designed by the parade director, who evidently didn’t realize that Superman usually wore a red cape. From the Wiki:
The colossal “Man of Steel” balloon was designed by a former Parade Director Tony Sarg and constructed out of neoprene coated rubber at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company at Akron, Ohio headquarters. The “Giant Superman” measured 75 feet in height and 44 feet in width with 9,000 cubic feet of helium needed to help the superhero fly down the streets of Manhattan. A crew of 27 husky handlers helped guide the balloon down the street, all donning Superman-themed apparel.
The original Superman balloon was retired after making only one appearance in the 1940 procession and was refurbished into Hugo the Football Hero the following year.
It really speaks to Superman’s instant, overwhelming success, that he could be in the Macy’s Parade so soon after his debut. And by the way, who is Hugo the Football Hero?!?
But you may have seen Baby Yoda, although we call him Grogu now, in the parade last Thursday. He debuted in the 2019 Disney+ series The Mandalorian, and there he was in the parade, just two years later.
“Incredible!”, you say? Maybe not. It’s not really the Star Wars character. It’s really the Funko version of the Star Wars character. This effort was driven by toymaker/collectible maker Funko, as detailed in this NYTimes article.
One more triumph for Geek Culture. And it also makes sense that this effort was a also a way to sell exclusive toys at Macy’s. From the NYTimes article:
For the occasion of the parade, Grogu Pop merchandise, including T-shirts, hoodies and figurines, will be sold at the Herald Square Macy’s and Funko stores.
“We’re beyond excited for the product to the hit shelves at Macy’s flagship store in a few days,” Jordan Dabby, Senior Director of Partnership Marketing and Media for Macy’s branded entertainment, said in an interview last week. “We expect the limited-edition Grogu Macy’s Parade balloon-inspired merchandise to go quickly.”
One can’t help but wonder what characters are in development right now for next year’s parade.