A samba school dancer at Rio Carnival 2012. Image by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo, via Flickr

Booze, bunda and bright shiny objects. That’s modern-day Mardi Gras in a nutshell.

Theologically, the celebration heralds the season of lent, when Christians practice repentance, prayer and almsgiving for the 40 days leading up to Easter. Across the world, Mardi Gras marks the last moments of unrestrained revelry before the season of austerity kicks in.

In some parts of the world (read: Rio de Janiero and New Orleans) the event is a full-blown tourist attraction worth hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

But here’s the interesting part. Since it’s a Christian holiday, unlike say, the World Cup, many cities prohibit sponsorship, meaning brands have to find special ways of inviting themselves to the party.

New Orleans Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras is an enormous moneymaker for the struggling city of New Orleans. Because the event is free, it’s hard to know exactly how much money it brings into The Big Easy, with estimates ranging from $144 to $500 million.

As far as official sponsors go, since it’s a Christian holiday, there’s no such thing. The one exception was in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina when Glad was brought on as a sponsor to help with cleanup.

But that hasn’t stopped Zatarain’s, a local brand selling Cajun-inspired food, from going guerilla. Zatarain invited a bevy of lifestyle bloggers to act as brand ambassadors during the celebration, and encouraged them to use the hashtag #JazzItUpNOLA every time they tweeted. The company also created a Facebook app and playlist on Pandora

LGBT love in Sydney

Sydney’s Mardi Gras festival is one of the biggest LGBT celebrations in the world, with over 300,000 spectators alone attending the parade. And gay-friendly brands are paying attention.

Durex, for instance, released a print ad campaign in the lead up to the festival, with posters popping up in gay bars across town.

Not exactly subtle, they feature a giant… rooster with the tagline, “Dress yours up for Mardi Gras.”


For five straight days, millions of people flood the streets of Rio de Janeiro (and other Brazilian cities) to cut loose at the world’s biggest street party.

Given the proportion and reputation of the event, Carnival is one of the few Mardi Gras celebrations that does have sponsors.

YouTube made a splash at Carnival this year, devoting a channel to the festivities and sponsoring live performances at the event.

Celebrities also flocked to the city, some of them as brand ambassadors. Jennifer Lopez, for example, was invited to watch the Samba contest as local beer company Brahma’s brand ambassador.

In the run-up to Carnival, Lopez was featured in a Brahma ad campaign. The commercials included the neologism “Sapucar,” which, according to AdAge, means “have lots of fun at Carnival.” Apparently the term has since become a regular in the  lexicon of Carnival revelers.

Here’s one of the spots (it’s in Portuguese, but the images say it all)