Brands Breathing New Life into America’s Oldest Tradition

Mike McDougall, Fellow, PRSA, APR, President of McDougall Communications

For an American tradition only one year shy of its 400th anniversary, Thanksgiving is staging a comeback at a time we need it most. Who would have thought a global pandemic could restore meaning to a holiday that was fast becoming a speed bump on the road to Christmas?

In 1621, the Wampanoag tribe and Plymouth colonists came together for a harvest feast born of celebrating survival, improving fortunes and gamesmanship, as Chief Ousamequin fended off internal and external rivals through cooperation with the English. While the politics discussed—or suppressed—at more recent Thanksgiving gatherings may not have surprised him, the commercial focus might have.

Because in more recent years, Thanksgiving became Black Friday Eve or even Brown Thursday. Yet COVID-19 has made swift work of Black Friday’s demise, taking Cyber Monday along for the ride.

Now to be sure, it had some help. Even before this year, Amazon Prime Day and its copycats, online and in-store deals that emerged before the leaves hinted at their fall colors, and a rush toward the holidays stretched the shopping season. Still, the doorbusters and wrap-around pre-dawn lines at Walmart persisted. Until now.

This November 26, the parking lots will be emptied at the likes of Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Home Depot. Rather than fight the trend, the National Retail Federation has leaned in, announcing its Shop Safe, Shop Early campaign and a New Holiday Traditions initiative.

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