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Thanks, but Don’t Even Think About It 

Last year: handcuffs. This year: handshakes. But the ultimate message for Mardi Gras 2006 is still the same: Stay out of town. “The campaign last year was a tremendous success,� says Maggie Cox, of the SLO advertising firm Barnett Cox Associates. “But there’s still a need for vigilance and awareness, and there’s still going to be a law enforcement presence this year.�

MARDI GRAS FLYER 2005:  Controversial message got its point across
  • MARDI GRAS FLYER 2005: Controversial message got its point across
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 Barnett Cox was hired by San Luis to once again get the word out that the city will not tolerate drunken behavior, large gatherings, or nudity the weekend of February 24. Mardi Gras 2004 turned into an out-of-control melee involving 5,000 rioters, more than 400 arrests, and injuries to police and civilians. Last year the city clamped down, hiring nearly 500 police officers from all over the state, and paying Barnett Cox $38,000 to devise an ad campaign to warn people (mostly students) that the party is over, and to stay away: “Violence and property damage will not be tolerated,� the print ads warned. “Out-of-town visitors are not welcome. Gathering on streets, sidewalks, and parking lots near campus and downtown will not be allowed.�

 The message upset many people. “There was a lot of controversy last year about saying the party is over, you can’t collect in groups on the street — the right to assembly and so forth,� recalls Maggie Cox’s husband and business partner Dave Cox. “People heard those messages and reacted to them, but it got the point across.�

 Indeed it did. There was no party, and 58% fewer arrests. So expect not as many officers this year (about 350), and a toned-down, less expensive ad campaign. “Last year we were looking for a complete shift in behavior from the previous year, and something that’s never been done here with that kind of law enforcement presence,� Maggie Cox says. “It was a massive education process and consistent with a model we also helped with in Chico with their Halloween celebrations.� (The creative process involved in developing the language, theme, and tone of the Mardi Gras ad campaign is the result of a collaborative effort on the part of Barnett Cox, Cuesta College, Cal Poly, and the city. When everyone approves, they sign off on it.)
THE PARTY IS STILL OVER:  A similar message for 2006 but with a big thanks.
  • THE PARTY IS STILL OVER: A similar message for 2006 but with a big thanks.
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 Barnett Cox was paid less than $25,000 for their work this year (see box). One reason for the cost cut: no television, which is considerably more expensive than radio and print. “We did some polling with students and young people to understand where they get their information,� says Cox, “and we found it was pretty fragmented across TV stations, so we felt we couldn’t impact the way we wanted to.� Turns out, they didn’t need to. “We’re working with a slightly different message,� Cox explains, which includes a thank you to students for making last year’s event “safe and sane.�

 But you will hear various messages on radio stations targeting 12- to 24-year-olds, including a 30-second spot recorded by world champion Ultimate Fighter Chuck Liddell: “This is our town. Let’s take care of it. Hi, this is Chuck Liddell, the UFC heavyweight champion. You may know me as the Iceman. Mardi Gras is just around the corner. Help keep it safe again this year. Respect each other. Tell your out-of-town friends to stay home the weekend of February 24th. Remember, this is your town. We live here, so take care of it.�

 Cox says the city pays for airtime at a modest level: “We make a purchase and most stations also give their support, broadcasting public service announcements with the same copy.� But Cox isn’t putting all her bets on the heavyweight champ. “We have publicity outreach press releases,� she says, “and police are going around student neighborhoods with door hangers.�

 There’s also a push this year to get the word out to what Cox calls “feeder� schools, colleges with students looking for a party: “We’ve sent materials to outlying colleges and universities to help put the message out, so it’s a very targeted and narrowly focused effort this year, again building on the success of last year.�

 Cox doesn’t foresee a problem with crowds drawn to SLO for the upcoming Tour de California bike race, scheduled one day before Mardi Gras weekend. Most people are aware of the situation, she says. Cal Poly senior Stacey Anderson, who is also New Times Calendar Editor, says she and her friends are leaving town. Too many handcuffs. ∆

Barnett Cox Campaign Proposal

Mardi Gras 2006 Communications Campaign
Estimated Advertising/Production Costs

Campaign Plan/Message Development 15 hrs.        $1,800

Collateral Materials
 Design/Production                               12.5 hrs.     $1,250
 Printing/Poster                                                       $1,600
 Printing/Door Hanger                                             $1,200
 Printing/Flyer                                                         $150

Advertising/Broadcast
 Production/Editing/Distribution                                $1,800
 Media Buying (n/c - commissionable)         -
 Media Costs*                                                        $5,000

Newspaper
 Design/Production                                  6 hrs.        $600
 Media Costs*                                                         $4,500

WWW/Internet
 Site One Update                                     4 hrs.        $500
 Site Two Development                          10 hrs.       $1,200

Public Relations Activities 
 Media Outreach                                       4 hrs.       $500
 High Schools Outreach                             3 hrs.       $350
 Out of Town Coordination                      10 hrs.       $1,200

Administrative
 Meetings/Admin                                      18 hrs.      $2,200

Contingency                                                              $1,000

TOTALS                                                                 $24,850

*Media costs are estimates based on published rates, and subject to negotiation

Managing Editor King Harris can be reached at kharris@newtimesslo.com.

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