Mardi Gras 2021: How brands are showing their support

The annual festival is a celebration of diversity and brands can play an important role in showing their support in the wider community

  • Zoë Coombs Marr, Narelda Jacobs, Joel Creasey and Courtney Act
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In 2020, political division and instability shocked the world. It came in a year with protests and a new movement for racial equality, all while the world grappled with the coronavirus pandemic.

The events of last year have thrown the role of brands into sharp relief as many people looked to them for their support and leadership on these health, social, racial and progressive crises.

In this climate of heightened awareness, Mardi Gras stands out as both a celebration and a reminder of the importance of progressive movements. In 2021 and beyond social and political change will continue and perhaps Mardi Gras is the example of celebrating tolerance and diversity in these times.

Mardi Gras has had an association with many brands - something that’s been an important element in demonstrating to the wider community recognition and support of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“If anything, 2020 has taught us that we need to celebrate the differences and diversity within our communities, and we need to do much more to support the more vulnerable in our communities,” Mardi Gras CEO, Albert Kruger, explained to CMO.

Mardi Gras goes back over 40 years. What started as a night of protest has become an international event that marks a celebration of Australia’s LGBTQIA+ community and its supporters. It’s also a powerful reminder that acceptance and legal protections and rights have been a long time in the making.

The theme for this year’s event, which includes the annual street parade and a festival, is ‘Rise’ and refers to rising to the occasion during trying times, helping our spirits rise again, supporting the rising starts and rising together to support each other.

Kruger sees last year as a turning point, where the attention has rightly switched to giving a voice to minorities.

“The challenge and hardship that 2020 presented us also provided the inspiration to our 2021 festival theme Rise, which is a call to action that now is the time to rise again through love, compassion, respect and understanding, and to work together to make the world a better place for all,” he said.

The role of brands in Mardi Gras support

Kruger told CMO brands choose to support Mardi Gras because it sends an important message to their staff, their customers and the world that they are welcoming and inclusive places that celebrate diversity and champion inclusion. “These are powerful messages to send, and Mardi Gras is a huge platform for them to be able to share these messages with the world,” he said.

For brands that support Mardi Gras it is more than just lip service to inclusion or hollow messaging around tolerance. “The brands that work with us are authentic in their support for the LGBTQIA+ community, with all of them having robust diversity and inclusion programs to further workplace protections for LGBTQI communities, and a strong drive to celebrate the importance of diversity in the workplace,” Kruger explained.

It’s a sentiment echoed by a returning sponsor this year - Southern Cross Austereo (SCA), the owners of 2Day FM and the Hit Network - after a five-year break from last supporting Mardi Gras.

“We believe our business performance is enhanced by a diverse workforce, where employees are treated with respect and fairness, and have equal access to opportunities,” SCA CMO, Nikki Clarkson, said.
The network, which includes digital, social, podcast and activation assets reaches more than 4.8 million listeners on radio and have 7.8 million followers on social platforms, brings significant heft to its support.

“This means that not only the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, but also the entire LGBTQIA+ community will have its voice heard across Australia and we could not be more proud,” said Clarkson.

The network of 50 Hit stations has a long relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community. Clarkson said its 2018 campaign for marriage equality, ‘Say Yes to Love’, won an Australian radio industry award. “Our West Australian regional station sponsors the Broome Mardi Gras and our own Hit Network Entertainment Reporter, Justin Hill, was a Mr Gay Pride in finalist 2019,” she noted.

“SCA’s values and those of the Hit Network, which are to be joyful, positive, optimistic with an inclusive view and a strong social conscience, naturally align with the diversity and inclusiveness of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras as it recognises and celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Why brands embrace Mardi Gras

Brands new to Mardi Gras this year include TikTok, Koala, HIT Network, P&G, HUD and Archie Rose. Along with SCA, there are also many returning partners, including ANZ “who we have been in a valuable and long-lasting partnership with for 15 consecutive years,” explained Kruger.

"Vodafone, Woolworths, The Star and L’oreal are all also returning, as well as our Broadcast partner, SBS, who will be broadcasting the Parade live for audiences across Australia to enjoy,” he said.

As one of the brands new to Mardi Gras this year, and a relatively new platform itself, Tik Tok saw a natural fit between itself and Mardi Gras as one of the most renowned LGBTQIA+ organisations.

“TikTok has emerged as a positive online space for the LGBTQIA+ community around the world to express their authentic selves. It has become a place where the LGBTQIA+ community can share, connect, inspire each other and where they are truly celebrated," TikTok A/NZ GM, Lee Hunter, explained to CMO. "Our LGBTQIA+ community is one of the most vibrant, passionate and creative on TikTok and our Australian queer community has really flourished.

“For TikTok, Mardi Gras represented the perfect opportunity to elevate some of our incredible Australian LGBTQIA+ creator voices, celebrate this much loved community, as well as educate and involve our wider TikTok community."

Hunter said the global LGBTQIA+ community on TikTok is among our most active and engaged and we have a proud history of supporting our LGBTQIA+ communities around the world. “Last year in June in the US, TikTok created the Hashtag Challenge #imcomingout to celebrate the best and brightest of TikTok’s LGBTQ+ community and give a voice to diversity and every kind of love on the platform. Our UK team have developed really exciting Pride programs over the last few years too.”

The last word on the importance of Mardi Gras comes from drag icon, Courtney Act who, together with comedian Joel Creasey, Network 10 presenter, Narelda Jacobs and stand-up comedian, Zoë Coombs Marr, is hosting the SBS TV coverage of the parade at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).

Zoë Coombs Marr, Narelda Jacobs, Joel Creasey and Courtney ActCredit: SBS
Zoë Coombs Marr, Narelda Jacobs, Joel Creasey and Courtney Act

“I can’t wait to get my heels on the pitch, wearing a lace-front in place of a baggy green, and celebrate the unique, vibrant Mardi Gras parade with my Indigenous, black, brown, trans, bisexual, asexual, intersex, lesbian, gay and queer siblings,” Courtney Act said.

“We’re going to bring all of the fun, glamour, heart, diversity and storytelling from the SCG and shout it loud and proud across Australia and around the world.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, or follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page.

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