What’s a $250,000 Rose Parade float really worth?

Rose Parade Floats at the Fiesta Floats Headquarters in Irwindale, CA
Michael Newberg | CNBC
Rose Parade Floats at the Fiesta Floats Headquarters in Irwindale, CA

At the 126th annual Rose Parade on Friday in Pasadena, California, more than 40 flower-adorned floats rode the 5.5 mile route, in front of a crowd of thousands and a TV audience of millions across the globe.

That kind of exposure comes with a hefty price tag, but corporate sponsors say the chance to get their company's message out to millions is worth the expense.

"We feel the return is very efficient," Dole Packaged Foods director of corporate communications Marty Ordman told CNBC. "We're able to get some key brand and product points across about our products and initiatives," he added.

Scotts Miracle-Gro, another parade participant, said it spent about $250,000 for its float, which weighs in at 42,050 pounds and took a crew of 400 people around 8,000 hours to build and decorate.

"We look at [return on investment] on many different levels…we measure it much more than the 2 hour parade," Scotts Miracle-Gro vice president John Sass told CNBC.

Sass said the company uses its designation as the "Official Rose and Flower Care Company of the Tournament of Roses" in its in-store branding, and capitalizes on the exposure to millions of viewers around the world. The company also partnered with HGTV this year to sponsor TV coverage of the event.

Sass said that while live events and sponsorship are a smaller part of the company's media mix, "it gives variety to media spend and allows us to connect with consumers in a much different way than traditional media can get you."

Is the ROI worth the money?

For its part, Dole spent about $500,000 on its Rose Parade efforts this year, according to Ordman. That includes the cost of the float, entry fee into the parade, and marketing campaigns.

That figure runs a bit higher than the average cost of a float, according to Tim Estes, CEO of Fiesta Parade Floats. "I would say the overall average is around about $250 to $260,000, somewhere in that range," said Estes. His company made about a quarter of this year's floats —including a display based on ABC's "The Bachelor," one of two floats Disney sponsored in this year's parade.

According to Estes, a number of corporate sponsors have told him they've received anywhere from four to six dollars in returns for every dollar invested in a float. "It's a great ROI for anyone...trying to give a message about who you are and what you do," he said.

But apart from the return that corporate sponsors hope to achieve with their floats, Dole's Marty Ordman said there's something special about participating in an event that dates back to the late 1800s.

"It's a very positive experience shared by millions of people," he said, "and being part of it is nice."