Time to Jump on the Semiquincentennial Bandwagon

Time to Jump on the Semiquincentennial Bandwagon

With the holiday shopping season in full swing and consumers spending more than $10 billion over the so-called Cyber Weekend – a nearly 8% increase compared with 2022 – forward-looking companies are already looking ahead to what 2024 will bring. But they aren’t thinking far enough ahead.

In less than three years, America will celebrate a major milestone – its 250th anniversary – and now is the time to get ready. Officially known as the Semiquincentennial, the celebration is likely to evoke the same unbridled commercialism last seen in 1976 when the nation reached its 200th birthday.

Anyone who lived through the Bicentennial era will remember the wave of patriotism that swept the nation, bringing informative “Bicentennial Minutes” to network television, the patriotic promotions and the commemorative trinkets that gave Americans abundant chances to show their true colors. It was an era when patriotism and conspicuous consumption combined to paint the town red, white and blue.

And that was all before the Internet.

Plans are already underway by several groups to properly acknowledge the Semiquincentennial and doubtless more organizations will soon jump on the celebratory bandwagon. And the event promises once-in-a-quarter millennium’s worth advertising opportunities.

A hundred years ago, it was a man well-acquainted with possibilities presented by patriotic parties and the advertising opportunities they present that spearheaded efforts for the nation’s Sesquicentennial observance.

Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker, whose first experience with national anniversaries came 25 years earlier as a member of the Centennial Exposition finance committee celebrating the country’s 100th birthday.

Wanamaker believed the Sesquicentennial presented an opportunity to burnish the image of the City of Brotherly Love and quickly gained the support of Philadelphia’s business community when the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce got on board.

Planning for that event began a decade earlier, in 1916, so there is no time to waste getting ready for 2026. The only real question is how big the celebration will be and how many advertising dollars will be spent on associated sales, specials and sentimentality. One thing is certain, it will be a crowded playing field.

If nothing else – and there is likely to be much, much more – Americans will at least become familiar with the term “Semiquincentennial” and a few may even master the spelling.

But advertisers worried about tight margins, supply chain issues and economic confidence shouldn’t let those concerns cloud their judgement. A 250th anniversary only comes once and when it comes to advertising, overkill is underrated.

But for those still unsure about the wisdom of pulling out all the stops to celebrate the milestone, John Wannamaker’s sage advice regarding promotional efforts is as true today as it was more than a century ago. “I am convinced that about one-half the money I spend for advertising is wasted,” he said. “But I have never been able to decide which half.”

It’s a lesson worth remembering. And 2026 is closer than you think.