Thanksgiving is arguably the holiday most shaped by marketing’s influence. It was first established as a national holiday in 1863 during the Civil War in an attempt to unite the country. The original holiday was held on the last Thursday of the month. But in 1939 during the Great Depression, FDR changed the holiday from the last Thursday of the month to the fourth Thursday of the month.
Why? To extend the Christmas shopping season. This idea was brought to Roosevelt by Fred Lazarus, Jr, founder of Federated Department Stores, which later became Macy’s – still the main corporate sponsor of the iconic Thanksgiving Day Parade. The move became official in 1942, and Thanksgiving has been on the fourth Thursday of November, and the opening of the holiday shopping season, ever since.
Advertising has always played a big part in Thanksgiving, and conventional Thanksgiving advertising has focused around warmth and family. This 2014 Publix Grocery Store ad is an excellent example of the way marketers can pull at the heartstrings this time of year. But, equally appealing are those advertisers that put a little spin on their holiday message. It’s hard to forget Stove Top Stuffing’s “Stuffing Pants” or their Artisinal Hipster Pilgrim. Equally relatable is Jenny O’s 2012 commercial suggesting an easier way to cook Thanksgiving dinner.
What made these more humorous ads effective? While at first they seem to be mocking the holiday, they’re actually celebrating it. Like a good pumpkin pie, a good Thanksgiving ad is both sweet and savory. Speaking of pumpkin pie, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that despite what you learned in grade school, the “traditional” meal of turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie is primarily a creation of clever marketing, not historical accuracy.
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