But Marketers Face Tricky Situation in City of Wreckage and Grief

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NEW YORK ( -- New Orleans has hired Los Angeles-based Media Buys to secure corporate sponsorship for Mardi Gras next month, the first time the city has sought to offset the expenses of the carnival with marketing.
Photo: AP
Mardi Gras organizers in devastated New Orleans hope an influx of marketer money can help keep the annual Bacchanalian celebration -- as well as basic city services -- afloat.

But whether marketers want to get involved with the annual celebration, while the city still recovers from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, remains to be seen.

$2 million sponsorships
Media Buys is seeking four companies willing to spend $2 million each to serve as an official presenting sponsor of Mardi Gras, to be held Feb. 28. The majority of the funds collected from these sponsors will be directed to the city to be used for support services like police, fire, emergency services and sanitation.

MediaBuys will also help the city find additional funding from corporate supporters willing to collectively pay for a major Mardi Gras advertising support campaign, which could end up carrying a multimillion-dollar ad budget. A third tier, called the “Mardi Gras Advertising Support Program,” will have packages ranging from $5,000 to $250,000.

“In New Orleans, one of the drivers of the local economy is the tourism industry,” said Ernest Collins, executive director of arts and entertainment for the city’s economic development office. “A successful Mardi Gras will not only inject badly needed revenue into the local economy, but will also provide us with an opportunity through media coverage to tell a more complete story of our recovery.”

Added Media Buys CEO Chick Ciccarelli: “We have a short window, but we are confident there are many corporations willing to help with the ad campaign. Some will get involved for philanthropic reasons, but many have a vested stake in this market and would like to see its restructuring as soon as possible. Mardi Gras is a way to assist in that effort.”

Yet while it seems noble enough, marketers are likely to be wary.

Benefit and pitfalls
“I see only one benefit and many pitfalls,” said Emmanuel Tchividjian, senior VP in the New York office of public relations giant Ruder Finn. “The one benefit is you send a message that you’re getting back to life as usual. And Mardi Gras will promote tourism and help the local economy.”

But, Mr. Tchividjian said, the risks may outweigh the benefits.

“Marketers will open themselves up to criticism of ‘How can one party in the midst of grief?’” he said. “Another issue is whether or not corporate money should be spent on entertainment when people in New Orleans still need to eat and still need a place to sleep. And, let’s be honest: Mardi Gras is also associated with some not-so-noble activities that take place. If I was a marketer, I would say, ‘Not this year.’”

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