MARDI GRAS OKS LICENSING

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The party's over for a non-commercial Mardi Gras.

This year's edition of the annual pre-Lenten carnival revelry wraps up Feb. 15. Come next year, a joint venture formed by the city of New Orleans and Atlanta-based Primedia will be licensing official New Orleans Mardi Gras merchandise, splitting evenly the expected $200,000 to $300,000.

An 1877 city ordinance bans parade ads.

Primedia President Mark Johnson said what his company will establish for Mardi Gras "will be similar to an Olympic-style program ... designed to protect the integrity of events."

Primedia VP Claudia Cahill said film, credit card, soft-drink and beer marketers are being courted for the official sponsorship and licensing/merchandising program, including T-shirts, caps, aprons and canvas bags.

Sponsors will get controlled use of the official logo; their brand or company logo on all official signage in designated areas and in all TV, print and radio campaigns; limited licensing rights for official merchandise; sales and sampling opportunities through Gateways to Mardi Gras kiosks; and inclusion in all publicity.

Arthur Hardy, a native of New Orleans and editor-publisher of "Arthur Hardy's Mardi Gras Guide," said local reaction has been extremely negative.

"It may be hard for outsiders to understand, but tradition is more important than money," he said.

A group of more than 100 French Quarter retailers has hired attorney Michael Carbo, fearing their sales of "unofficial" merchandise will be hurt by the competition. Mr. Carbo believes the city can't sell what it doesn't own and since the city doesn't own Mardi Gras, the marketing plan is false advertising and unfair and deceptive trade practices.

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