How brands can be the catalyst to reviving the community roots of Carnival

Fireside chats are a series of interviews in which the multicultural marketing division within Omnicom Media Group meet people within the network to understand their perspectives. We do this as a mean to define the impact of community & culture on behaviour and translating this as brand opportunities. Ahead of Notting Hill Carnival, we spoke to Judith, an Accountant at Ketchum who tells us about the 50 years of evolvement since its inception.

We explored the origin story and what it means to those who were there from the start and therefore how to bridge the gap brands aren’t seeing to enable their sincere and impactful involvement in Carnival.

Carnival History:

Notting Hill Carnival, AKA “Europe’s biggest street party” is a landmark in the British Calendar. The annual event welcomes over one million people to the streets of London to experience the cosmopolitan vibe of the city in full vigour.

UK, 1958 saw violent attacks against the Caribbean community resulting in 5-day riots over the summer bank holiday. As a rebuttal, the following year the very first Carnival was born, an indoors affair organised by Claudia Jones called “Trinidad Comes to Town”.  This was the start, where Claudia Jones had famously said, “A people’s art is the genesis of their freedom.”

6 years later, in 1966 as an offshoot, Notting Hill Carnival was born, an outdoor and bold celebration of pan-Caribbean culture.  Since then, the multi-generational celebration has resided in West London. The drum and bass that echo carry joy and political undertones that revel in the community’s legacy and celebrate their contributions to the cultural fabric of the UK.

Judith’s story:

Judith grew up in Paddington in the 60’s and recalls attending the very first years of Carnival. She recalls the significance of the annual event to the community. Fondly looking back on the all-night partying, the music, the food from local homes and the buzz of feeling at home in West London.

She admits that for the past 20 or so years, Carnival has changed drastically. The year on year changes, from route, to curfew, to restrictions on local vendor contribution has resulted in a lack of community participation.

“I feel like it has lost its cultural essence”.

The new narrow routes mean that it is a lot more congested, floats that used to dominate the streets and be larger than life have dwindled in grandeur and size. Combining this with brand involvement lacking the understanding of cultural significance the event has meant that carnival is drifting away from the intention and those who made it what it is.

Despite the obvious popularity, not just with Londoners, there is little understanding of what goes into the celebration. Judith says, “I have never seen anything on TV where they dedicate proper time to showing the carnival floats, or even like a little documentary showing this is where it starts from.”

What kept coming back was the clear gap in understanding that brands have regarding the origin story. This has meant that the community that was there at its inception have become estranged from the highlight of their year.

How do brands get involved:

Retrace the routes back to the community. Talking to Judith, it was clear that there’s no other way to rekindle the flame of Carnival for the generations who organised the original celebrations.

‘Carnival needs to be brought back to a community thing’.

There are always ways for brands to include communities. From training local chefs in how to attain a health and safety certificate to sell food, to sponsoring a local float.

‘The floats have dwindled because they don’t have the finance, so if they had some sort of sponsorship from somebody,” that would enable the community to put on their exuberant floats.

The multi-generational impact is not lost, and brands are able to get involved here too; ‘Brands could create adventure playgrounds in the community. Sports is a good way to engage with the community.’

All this to say that there is so much scope to bring Carnival back to its roots and engage with the community that is open to being represented in a positive way.

Most importantly of all, Judith summarises; ‘I want a brand to do, not just say.’


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