October 22, 2018 • Sam Grabel
When we think of company milestones, we often default to thinking of a founding date as the basis for a company anniversary celebration. However, identifying a founding date isn’t always the most straightforward task. Many companies have extensive histories involving name changes, mergers and acquisitions. Take the NBA, for example: Is its anniversary year 1946, when it was founded as Basketball Association of America, or when its name changed three years later to the NBA after a merger with the National Basketball League?
Setting aside the sometimes-challenging task of clarifying when a milestone occurs, here are a number of smaller but no less important milestones, such as product launches and ad campaign anniversaries, that a company can leverage to achieve internal and external business objectives. Let’s take a look at the myriad ways that companies can honor their heritage.
Companies often celebrate the opening of a new office or factory as a way to instill pride in workers in that region and connect with the local community. The classic tape-cutting ceremony or installation of a cornerstone often marks the origin of the facility. But is there an opportunity to highlight and celebrate a 10th, 25th, or 50th anniversary of the new facility? Nissan, the Japanese car manufacturer, celebrated the 25th anniversary of its Sunderland plant in the UK with this video, drawing upon a series of oral histories with people who are associated with its opening and growth.
The commemoration of the plant is notable because of its size and performance—it is the largest and most successful car plant in the UK. The plant created a huge number of jobs and revolutionized the local economy. During its 25th year, the factory also set a number of records, including the production of more than 480,000 cars. The plant and its 7,000 workers received the Freedom of Sunderland City, the highest honor the city can bestow upon an individual or entity.
When there is a particularly storied division or department within an organization, the parent company can celebrate its successes and use it as a beacon for the rest of the company. For example, aerospace giant Lockheed Martin’s “Skunk Works” celebrated its 75th anniversary this year with much fanfare. The division was born in 1943 as a side project to develop America’s first jet fighter. With 150 days to develop the aircraft, employees worked overtime to pull it off in 143. Since its inception, Skunk Works has continually been at the forefront of innovation, leading to many of the most famous and technologically advanced aircraft in the world, including the U-2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird and the famous stealth bomber. In addition to publishing a book about the division, Lockheed Martin also created a commemorative video and held a company celebration for employees at their Palmdale headquarters.
In 2018, Firestone celebrated what would have been the 150th birthday of its iconic and visionary founder, Harvey S. Firestone. The birthday campaign kicked off with a major celebration at the Indianapolis 500, an event in which the founder played an important role in its early years. Today, Firestone is the sole tire provider for the Indy 500.
Through archival research, we were able to locate a number of historical speeches, videos and images that helped shape the birthday campaign, illustrating how Harvey’s principles and vision are still alive and thriving in the company.
Before the race, one of Harvey’s descendants read a speech about innovation in the Indy 500 that is as applicable today as the day that Harvey wrote it more than 80 years ago.
The campaign was well received by dealers, business partners, employees and others that make up the Firestone family, and helped to show how Firestone fundamentally changed the Indianapolis 500 and the auto industry.
A company is only as good as its products or inventions. As such, the invention or patent of a groundbreaking product can become the focal point of a company celebration. For example, Coca-Cola owns many brands, but the original formula will always be the organization’s most iconic product. It makes sense that Coca-Cola would celebrate a milestone for its flagship product, Coke. Coca-Cola did just that in 2015, marking the 100th anniversary of its bottle design. To celebrate, the company created an interactive digital timeline that starts in 1899—the year the company began bottling—and extends through all of its major milestones in product packaging.
Similarly, patents or new products open up the opportunity to mark innovations. For example, Apple used the launch of the iPhone X to mark the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. In 2018, Apple celebrated the 20th anniversary of the iMac.
Following Apple’s example, there’s a huge, relatively untapped opportunity for many brands to use their tradition of inventiveness to drive awareness of their capabilities. Take the Ford Motor Company, for example. We would anticipate Ford doing something for the 120th anniversary of its founding. Yet there is a huge opportunity in 2022, the year preceding the anniversary, to mark the 90th anniversary of Ford inventing the V-8 engine, a milestone that carries value industrywide and highlights Ford innovation more directly.
We often find that global companies tend to focus on their global company founding date as the anniversary. This approach overlooks an opportunity to highlight how long a brand has operated within a particular market, country or region. So while Coca-Cola was invented in 1886, the company could also highlight the anniversary of its arrival in the UK in 1900. In fact, Coke could celebrate a variety of market entry milestones from the 1920s through World War II.
Celebrating the anniversary of a famous ad campaign, though uncommon, offers brands and companies the opportunity to reacquaint younger customers with messaging and themes from the past. The folks at Coca-Cola did this in 2016 when they remastered the famous hilltop ad featuring the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” to mark 45 years since the commercial originally aired.
And by now, you may have seen the Nike advertisement featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This advertisement coincides with the 30th anniversary of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. While the company has produced some iconic ads before, this one is certainly a novel way to mark the anniversary of the campaign, generating more press coverage than ads usually do.
These are just a few ways you could use company milestones to your advantage. Get creative, stand out and have fun celebrating your company and its achievements by looking beyond simply the date you got started, and use other milestones to drive home messages that resonate with your employees and customers.
For more ideas about how to mark your corporate anniversary, check out our comprehensive Guide to Celebrating Your Company Anniversary.