Let’s talk turkey. This Thanksgiving, everything from Turkey Trots to NFL games to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, are going digital. For most of these organizers, the need to pivot has driven digital priorities that may be used for years to come. For others, it’s just a temporary band-aid while we long for the days of gathering en masse once more. Here’s what to expect.
Turkey Trots Gone Virtual
By 2015, Thanksgiving surpassed Independence Day as the most popular day for running events. By 2018, more than 1.17 million runners participated in more than 1,000 different events across the country. Then came 2020. Race registration sites like RunSignup scrambled to provide resources to help race organizers make their events virtual.
Suddenly, casual turkey trotters were able to use features developed for more advanced races like marathons. This year, they’re taking the race to their own neighborhood streets, connecting with remote spectators through live phone tracking, getting cheered on remotely, and receiving audio progress alerts.
The importance of nailing this digital transformation isn’t just for the social or health wellbeing of participants. Turkey trots raise significant amounts of money for many great causes. Take ThunderCloud Subs Turkey Trot in Austin, Texas, for example. For 30 years, ThunderCloud has donated 100% of the event’s proceeds to Caritas of Austin, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness. Last year alone, it raised $325,000 and included over 20,000 participants. That’s a lot of support, and this year it’s needed more than ever.
“I hope to see 20,000+ people running in their neighborhoods and sharing a communal pre-Thanksgiving workout,” says Mike Haggerty, ThunderCloud Subs co-owner and Trot run executive director. “It will be different for sure. But hopefully the spirit that has ‘super-charged’ the Trot for the past 29 years will energize our community once again.”
Everybody Loves a Parade?
It was touch-and-go for a while, but it was finally decided that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will happen in 2020. But few will be able to see it in person. The route will be shortened, there will be no high school or college marching bands, participant headcount will be reduced by 75%—and the public is banned.
But Macy’s is determined to prove that the virtual experience will not suffer. Celebrities will perform. Local professional marching bands will play. And several new balloons and floats will appear, including Boss Baby and Tom & Jerry. A little advanced technology will replace the 80 to 100 handlers usually needed to fly the giant balloons, too.
Football’s Still in the Game
Some would say it’s not Thanksgiving Day without football. So, fingers crossed, football it shall be. This year, NFL games are Houston Texans at the Detroit Lions, Washington at the Dallas Cowboys, and Baltimore Ravens at the Pittsburgh Steelers. But if you’re a sports fan, you know it’s not business as usual. Most apparent will be the lack of fans spilling out into the parking lots. Even the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are banished to the rafter levels.
And one hairy question remains: Will the games manage to happen at all?
While the NBA, WNBA, and NHL finally completed their seasons, they took the “bubble” approach of keeping playoff teams in an insulated environment. MLB had a few extra bumps without a bubble. The NFL is taking the non-bubble approach for now, but it’s a significant risk. Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford was just re-activated from the Covid-19 reserves for the second time. And the NFL has postponed more than a dozen games due to Covid-19 outbreaks.
Are You Ready for Some New Ads?
What happens if an outbreak cancels a Thanksgiving game at the last minute? It might be Little House on the Prairie reruns for those watching at home, which is weighing on the minds of advertisers more than anyone. That’s one reason among several that the commercials you’ll see will be from some new brands that don’t usually advertise (although we’ll always have the oldies).
Another reason, as Adweek reports in anticipation of Super Bowl 2021, is that many of the hardest-hit categories by the pandemic, including travel, theatrical, and auto are out.
Plus, “consumers have seen new needs during a pandemic environment. And there are companies that are benefiting from that. So we’ll see some new advertisers in the game this year, for sure,” says Jeremy Carey, managing director of Optimum Sports, Omnicom’s sports media and marketing division.
According to CNBC Technology Reporter Megan Graham, “With fewer or no fans in seats at the stadiums, major marketers are getting creative when it comes to reaching fans that may be at home on the couch instead of interacting with a brand at a game.”
Is That You, Santa Claus?
The moment the last turkey leg is grabbed, it’s time for Christmas everything—decorations, shopping, music. How will some of these seasonal trimmings be handled this year? How about your Christmas tree taking its own Uber to your front door? Both Lowes and Home Depot have Christmas tree online ordering and delivery in the works.
And what about Mall Santas? Be ready for a lap-free, “touchless experience.” That means you’ll find Santa in nearly every mall, but he’ll be sitting securely behind a gift barrier, across a table, or behind a plexiglass screen made to look like a snow globe.
Macy’s promises that Santa will still be the main attraction at the end of their Thanksgiving parade. However, “The Home of Santa Claus” since 1860 will not be hosting him in New York, Chicago, and some other major metro locations. Instead, Macy’s is encouraging an online experience, where those too squeamish about visiting Santa at the mall will find other virtual opportunities galore.
Apps like Elf Town Galway, Mr. Kringle & Company, and (this writer’s annual favorite) Portable North Pole offer interactive videos and calls, “live webcams,” and even video chats one-on-one with the jolly big man himself.
So Long, Grey Thursday
Over the past few years, Black Friday has been on the move. It finally encroached on Thanksgiving Day, also known as Grey Thursday or Black Friday Thursday in retail circles. By 2018, 26% of people said they shopped in-store holiday sales on Thanksgiving Day.
“What gives? When will the madness stop?” asked worried Thanksgiving purists. Enter 2020.
In order to spread the wealth while slowing the Covid-19 spread, retailers are downplaying these one-day events and have extended holiday sales as early as October this year. Most of these sales coincided with Amazon’s annual Prime Day, October 13-14, 2020, and have continued since then.
For those still itching to shop in-person on Thanksgiving, their options will be limited. Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Best Buy, and the nation’s largest mall owner Simon Property Group have announced they will be closed the entire Thanksgiving Day.
“We can all agree that, so far, 2020 has turned out differently than what we might have expected. And now, the holiday season, including Thanksgiving Day, is going to look different, too,” Best Buy announced on its blog.
Online sales aren’t expected to slow, though. This November and December are forecast to surge 33% to a record $189 billion, according to Adobe Analytics. About 9% of those shoppers will be first-timers, making their very first online purchases ever.
So whatever Thanksgiving traditionalist you (or your customers) may be—a parade watcher, turkey trotter, football fanatic, or super-shopper—the opportunities are still there. They just don’t look like they did before. Cozy up to the screens, folks. They remain your window to the world this holiday season.