December 20th, 2007

This holiday tradition is brought to you by ...

By Jeff Martin
USA Today

Depending on where you live, your town’s holiday celebration may be presented by a cellphone business, a hamburger chain or a health care company this year.

Corporations increasingly are attaching their names to holiday traditions across the USA as they vie for attention in a crowded media landscape.

In Virginia Beach, McDonald’s Holiday Lights at the Beach Presented by Verizon Wireless features about 250 animated light displays, including a surfing Santa. The companies, along with other sponsors, finance the attraction.

In Sioux Falls, S.D, the annual Sioux Falls Parade of Lights this year became the Avera Parade of Lights. The sponsorship by the local health care system enabled organizers to add a 60-foot Christmas tree.

In Oklahoma City, the Sonic Segway Santa is a big part of the Downtown in December festival. Santa rides a Segway through downtown to promote green transportation and Sonic drive-in food.

Holiday events are part of a growing sponsorship industry expected to reach $14.9 billion by North American companies this year, according to forecasts by the Chicago-based IEG Sponsorship Report, which tracks corporate sponsorship. That’s an 11.7% increase over 2006, the report said.

There’s no breakdown for holiday events, but North American companies this year were expected to spend more than $700 million in sponsorship spending for “festivals, fairs and annual events,” up 15% from the previous year, according to the report.

Some say it has gone too far. “It seems like we’re kind of a nation of excess sometimes,” said Marguerite Oligmueller, who moved to Sioux Falls from a ranch in central South Dakota a few years ago.

The trend is likely to continue. “At the big-bucks level, mass media is fragmented so much that it’s very hard to get a large audience for anything,” said George John, the Pillsbury-Gerot Chair in Marketing at the University of Minnesota.

There are upsides for cities, said Jay Newell, an Iowa State University professor who researches media saturation.

“Governments everywhere are certainly trying to raise revenue,” Newell said. “Naming rights is one way to do that.”

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