Mardi Gras has, and continues to be, one of the most well known, interesting and misunderstood free festivals in the world. An enormous content marketing and digital marketing opportunity for brands — think brand activation, content creation, brand awareness, social media opportunities and good old fashioned sales incentives trips — Mardi Gras offers it all. Yet, brands really aren’t jumping on the bandwagon. So why is that?
Perception is Reality
People mistakenly think that Mardi Gras is all “Girls gone wild” versus the more accurate, family friendly fun. I should know — in 2009 and again in 2010, I lead an effort to rebrand the festival using nothing other than social media and content marketing. You can read about the results of the initial Twitter Experiment on my old blog.
What that effort taught me was that perception is reality — right up to the point of experience, including virtual experience.
In both the 2009 and 2010 experiments, we significantly reduced brand linkage between Crazy and Flashing with Mardi Gras. Simultaneously we increased the linkage between Family Friendly and Mardi Gras. In 2010 we even analyzed the data against people who had never been to Mardi Gras (100% perception knowledge) and people who had visited Mardi Gras.
The virtual family friendly experience even changed the perception of those that had previously attended a Mardi Gras!
BUT — most people and brands still associate Mardi Gras with beads, beer and that other B…. so they shy away from an incredibly powerful content marketing opportunity out of fear.
How Mardi Gras Can Help Brands
And I’m not just talking New Orleans Mardi Gras here folks. This same thing can hold true for all kinds of unique festivals and events around the world.
Brands that choose to participate in New Orleans’ Mardi Gras — not just come and advertise like they do with most events — have a plethora of opportunities including:
- Brand Activation — with a million people sitting around the streets just waiting for parades, there is enormous sampling opportunities to be found. I used to have this great ice chest/grill combo — the Fire & Ice — that I cooked on during the parades. I could have sold 100’s of them during Mardi Gras by doing nothing more than just cooking on them. Folks would walk up from blocks away (that happens when you’re cooking made to order omelets on Fat Tuesday morning at 6am in the middle of a parade route!). Not sure why they quit making those grills… still my all-time favorite tailgating/Mardi Gras/Camping product of all time. If ANYONE has one of these and wants to get rid of it — CALL ME. I’m very serious here.
- Brand Awareness — talk about your captive audience. The parade routes start to fill hours (and if you’re talking Endymion… days) before the parades roll. That is a lot of folks just looking for something to capture their attention. That’s not even counting all the bored people sitting in cubicles. There are limitless opps for brands with the right digital strategy.
- Brand Linkage — when I worked with Tabasco in 2010 to do their big Mardi Gras campaign, the post campaign research showed significant spikes in people saying “Tabasco makes food taste better” even though we never said anything about that during the 18 day campaign.
- Influencer Marketing — again, in 2010, we found numerous examples of bloggers writing about how Tabasco was supporting some crazy guy in New Orleans who wanted to change the brand of Mardi Gras. And we weren’t even trying to influence bloggers. We did however invite a few down to join us… even putting Peter Shankman on a Mardi Gras float to live stream his first ever Mardi Gras ride on Fat Tuesday.
- Sales Reward Programs — who wouldn’t want to hit a quota and get a free trip to not just experience Mardi Gras but do it in VIP style?
- Content Marketing — for brands whose products lend themselves to usage during Mardi Gras (think anything that a tailgater or camping enthusiast would use) — Mardi Gras represents almost an entire month of content creation opportunities. Content that can live and be used outside of a Mardi Gras context. Heck, if I was a food company or national grocer I could come up with 100’s of video content ideas, recipes, etc. All in a very short time period and for relatively low costs. See point #2 in this list and the Grill2Go. Mardi Gras Live cooking show? Yes please!
- Public Relations Opportunities — for brands that are smart enough to engage the culture and people of Mardi Gras versus just seeing it as an advertising or event marketing opportunity, there is the ability to leverage the brand’s Mardi Gras support to garner earned media mentions. For instance, a producer at NPR read the Ad Age story about Tabasco working with me to rebrand Mardi Gras and thought it was an interesting media story angle. What was the result of the interest? NPR ran a four and a half minute story during Fat Tuesday drive time. Listen to the entire episode here (start the stream at 12:10 to hear the story).
Don’t Ad To the Mardi Gras Experience
No that’s not a typo — it’s a rule that all brands should follow when trying to assimilate themselves into events like Mardi Gras. Don’t be so short sighted. The eyeballs, awareness and traditional metrics you can drive are all fine but aren’t where the gold is hiding.
No, the gold is in being seen as a part of versus interloper in, the party.
When we were live streaming the 201 Mardi Gras parades people would ask us what we were doing. When we told them and explained how the Sheraton Hotel New Orleans and Tabasco were making it all possible by donating rooms for our bloggers and underwriting the costs of everything we were doing because those brands believed it was important to rebrand New Orleans’ version of Mardi Gras… you wouldn’t believe how people responded.
I watched people tweet and text their friends saying how blown away they were. I watched people send kudos to both brands and thanking them for supporting the effort. We even heard that after the NPR story, friends of the CEO who heard the story called to congratulate him on doing something innovative and important.
In fact, that was probably one of the biggest takeaways from the entire two-year effort.
As the Marketing Director for Tabasco put it during the debrief… (paraphrasing here)
No one ever talks to us about our advertising. But this… this campaign… people couldn’t wait to tell us how much the loved it. They would tell us how they told their friends about it. And you could see that they were genuinely excited about what we were doing.
Consumers are hungry for authentic conversations with, about, and powered by brands. Be that brand… and the marketing world is your crawfish (yes they’re in season right now).
Happy Mardi Gras.