Mardi Gras: A Missed Marketing Moment For Brands

Brands could do more to connect with consumers around future Mardi Gras celebrations.

Content Marketing

Mardi Gras provides plenty of opportunities for beads, booze, and bosoms, but could it also present untapped marketing opportunities? Tom Martin, founder of New Orleans-based digital marketing agency Converse Digital, certainly thinks so.

Multiple brands tweeted from parades and shared content like recipes to get into the Mardi Gras spirit this year.

While the carnival certainly presents obstacles on the surface – a rep for the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, for example, says no brands are allowed in Mardi Gras parades whatsoever, which is on top of their pre-existing reputation for lewd and lascivious behavior – Martin specifically points to missed content marketing opportunities among brands that can look beyond the drunken debauchery of Bourbon Street and weave themselves into the culture and storyline of Mardi Gras.

“The Greatest Free Show on Earth”

Mardi Gras is a huge event that attracts a million or more consumers, which means a big marketing opportunity, but marketers traditionally look at it from a sponsorship approach, Martin said.

“There’s no gate. It’s the greatest free show on earth. You stand there, watch and catch beads. It’s very unusual from an event standpoint,” Martin said.

In addition, the city of New Orleans has specific anti-corporate sponsorship rules in place and throwing branded items from floats is strictly verboten.

“So it perplexes marketers. They don’t know how to leverage it,” Martin said. “What you see is they share content or they ride a Mardi Gras hashtag and maybe they have street teams. You see a lot of street team activity.”

In prior years, he said that came from brands like energy drink Monster passing out samples.

“I think that’s about as creative as most people get with it,” he said.

Tabasco’s Virtual Mardi Gras Experience

He points to work he did with Tabasco, which he said endeared the brand to the local community, gave it an activation in the social space, ramped up followers and had a measurable impact on intent to purchase, as a good example for future activations. In it, Tabasco created a website, MyMardiGrasExperience, which allowed consumers around the country to virtually experience Mardi Gras via a live Twitter feed and streaming video. The effort was also profiled in AdAge.

“You could sit at your computer and watch the parade from the vantage point of a local embedded in the route just like you would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” Martin said. “Here, locally, TV stations do it, but if you’re outside New Orleans, you could never watch them live as they are happening.”

The brand also embedded a camera on a float, which allowed consumers to see what it was like to ride in one of the parades.

“That created an opportunity for people to really experience something they couldn’t experience themselves and to reinforce Tabasco’s New Orleans heritage and roots,” Martin said.

More Than Drunken Debauchery

And, in effect, it helped the brand show a different side of Mardi Gras, repositioning the festival in the minds of consumers from “Girls Gone Wild” to family fun.

“If you have kids, [Mardi Gras] should be on your bucket list,” Martin said. “It’s like Disney, but better.”

This drove a lot of attention from the media and within the social space.

“That’s because they weren’t trying to market,” Martin said. “When you embrace its traditions and themes and turn it in a way that benefits the brand [without] trying to be a sponsorship, you can attach at a deeper level. But brands miss it. They can’t get out of the traditional event-based mindset – ‘Where can I put banners and street teams and beat people over the head with branded messaging?’ – rather than weaving themselves into the fabric of Mardi Gras and linking to the essence, which is family and celebration and not drunken debauchery like you see on Bourbon Street.”

According to Martin, the city of New Orleans does livestream video, but he still hasn’t seen many brands outside of the liquor industry attempt to link themselves to Mardi Gras and there still isn’t much in the way of digital content “using the fullness of Mardi Gras as a way to create cool, compelling stuff that people might want to watch.”

“A Five-Day Tailgate if Your Body Can Handle It”

At the same time, he notes brands are understandably hesitant given Mardi Gras’ reputation.

“When we did Tabasco, we said, ‘We’re going to do live video right from parade route with no delay’ and it scared the bejesus out of us and rightfully so. That was the biggest hurdle. We had to get [the brand] so comfortable and confident that…it wasn’t going to be the Tabasco show and then a bunch of people naked,” Martin said. “And that was a Louisiana company. The marketing director lives right here and she knows Mardi Gras. She knows that crazy stuff happens. That’s the bigger challenge.”

But, as the Tabasco example proved, Martin said there’s more to Mardi Gras. And, calling Mardi Gras “a five-day tailgate if your body can handle it,” he says there’s a great fit for brands typically associated with activities like tailgating or camping.

Martin said brands with logical fits could “come in and create a ton of super-helpful, useful content that makes [their] product look like a star. That gets you on the ground and event-based awareness but also gets you the eyeballs of people who are interested in Mardi Gras beyond the craziness.”

However, he notes it will probably take a few bigger brands with real money to make a commitment and have some success before many more follow suit.

Cook Me Somethin’ Mister

For his part, Martin said New Orleans-based food product brand Cook Me Somethin’ Mister has an excellent brand integration into Mardi Gras that creates multiple levels of value with its Cook Me Somethin’ Mister Café.

The Cafe, which is actually a table for two on a parade route where revelers can eat fresh jambalaya, distinguishes the brand from other food trucks and carts while also creating sampling for both locals and tourists in an “inherently more fun and socially sharable way” for a local brand that can also be purchased via Amazon, Martin said.

Martin also notes it has a built-in social media plan “and not just the brand sharing social media posts about what they’re doing, but, more importantly, Mardi Gras revelers sharing photos of themselves enjoying a table for two on the parade route.”

Calling the effort unique and different, Martin said, “Big brand, small brand – it matters not — it’s fully integrated into the culture of Mardi Gras versus feeling like another stupid sampling tent that you see at any big event these days.”

What do you think of Martin's take on the opportunity for marketers at Mardi Gras?