Mardi Gras is here. Every year, brands are finding new ways to engage with the celebrations but could they be doing more damage than good to their reputation. Sense Producer, Samantha Coutu is put in the spotlight to discuss her Mardi Gras projects this year and find out more on what brands can do to get involved and why they should.
Sense: What is your role at Sense?
Samantha Coutu: I've been freelancing as a producer for Sense for approaching two years. It might be helpful to give an overview of what a producer is because I feel like it’s a relatively broad term. What it means to be a producer at Sense is completely different from film or television. We are creative project managers. We are responsible for managing all the key stakeholders and being accountable for every touch point in the delivery of a project.
Sense: Do you want to tell me about the project this year?
Samantha Coutu: We're so excited about the theme this year - it’s so camp. We've taken inspiration from the seventies sci-fi genres...think Star Trek and Barbarella, which are two of my all time favourites.
The space travellers and gayliens from the planet Oz Fag Hag, a futuristic utopia where all love is equal, are traveling to Mardi Gras 2020 to bring with them the message that love transcends! Tolerance gets us very little, respect is a good start, but love opens doors.
Sense: What kind of impact do you hope for the float to have on the community and everyone there on the day?
Samantha Coutu: It’s always been important for us to march with a message. The Mardi Gras 2020 theme is ‘what matters most’. For us, what matters most is love. Love transcends identity. When we can learn to truly love one another, not in spite of, but because of our differences, we will be on our way towards genuine equality.
Sense: That sounds amazing. Looking over the past few years and when you had to translate the message or the theme that you've put into the float, what kind of challenges have you experienced?
Samantha Coutu: I’d say the biggest challenge we experience is budget. As a community float, the only source of revenue we have is from our marcher entry fee, which covers our AV and vehicle costs.
We also lean on the resources within our community. Instead of putting everyone in the same costume, our people spend so much time and energy creating elaborate pieces. We’re a marching float and the costumes are the most important part.
Sense: Could you run through some opportunities that come up then for businesses to get involved?
Samantha Coutu: As a community float, we can't take corporate sponsorship. We can always upgrade to a non-community float but we're quite passionate about not selling our space.
Sense: What other opportunities might there be then, for brands to tap into?
Samantha Coutu: What's important for brands to remember, is that people aren't here to be sold anything. If a brand wants to activate at Mardi Gras they need to think about how they're representing themselves. Are they there to show their commitment to the community? Are they part of the community? Or are they there to try and sell to the rainbow dollar?
I think that it becomes really clear when someone's intentions aren't genuine. The Mardi Gras itself is really good at choosing the right partners and only allowing commercial corporate floats that have a genuine place in our community.
Sense: I'd like to elaborate a little bit more… maybe just on the broader sense of rainbow washing and then you've got people that green wash as well when they're not genuinely interested in these causes. I guess, for a company that wants to embrace these different spaces, the social spaces but isn't quite in the position to do so yet, do you have some advice?
Samantha Coutu: There are a lot of ways that you can get involved in a genuine way. Google, our client, is a really good example of this. Google offer grants to community floats and last year the Fag Hags were lucky enough to receive one of those grants.
For the past five years that I've been marching, I don’t recall Google entering an actual float. However, they show their support by offering grants and sponsorship. And I'm not saying that brands shouldn't be there. I think it's amazing when done correctly. Corporate floats have to pay a lot more than the community floats do. It helps in a big way to cover the operational costs, which are huge.
Sense: Over a million dollars is contributed from brand sponsorship every year.
Samantha Coutu: It is important. The Mardi Gras are also really great about keeping an eye on their eco footprint. Brands aren't allowed to hand things out. You can't be giving out swag during the parade itself.
Sense: Is there anything else you want to share
Samantha Coutu: From a brand perspective, if you are interested in getting, just think about how to do so in a really genuine way.
Sense: What steps can brands take to move into a cause-driven space? Whether it's identifying whether it's right for them or actually setting up to be more of an activist. Where did they go and what do they do?
Samantha Coutu: You really need to sit down and think about why you're doing it in the first place. Is this something that you care about or are you trying to sell? And if it's the latter, then it’s probably not right to be doing it in the first place.