Campaign SpotlightPress Release

Leo Burnett Australia and Johnnie Walker host Mardi Gras Debutante Ball for Festival First-Timers

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Johnnie Walker continues to take bold steps towards progressing equality with its latest campaign in partnership with Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Leo Burnett Australia, and Herd MSL. With a mission to celebrate inclusivity and empower individuals to embrace their first Mardi Gras experience, Johnnie Walker proudly hosted the Debutante Ball for first-timers.

Recognizing the diverse and nuanced reasons why some have yet to attend Mardi Gras, the campaign sought to provide a supportive and welcoming environment that celebrated the individuality and diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Launching with a national search led by Herd MSL, Johnnie Walker had icons of Mardi Gras, Robyn Kennedy (who attended the first Sydney Mardi Gras parade in 1978), Paper Artist Benja Harney and Trans Couture Designer couple Katie and Lillian Nicol-Ford, invite people from across Australia who had never attended, to take their first steps at Mardi Gras in 2024. Eight debutantes who represent a broad spectrum of identity, age, and geography were selected. They were then brought to Sydney to have their debut celebrated by the community at large.


The Debutante Ball merged traditional elements of a debutante event with the vibrant spirit of Mardi Gras, resulting in a fabulous collision of old-world charm and new queer identity. By subverting expectations and embracing individuality, Johnnie Walker invited everyone to take their first steps toward Mardi Gras with confidence and pride.

The event was held at the iconic LGBTQIA+ venue, Kinselas, in Sydney and hosted by Australian actress and singer Natalie Bassingthwaighte, who Herd MSL engaged to not only inspire first-timers across the country to attend the ball but attended herself as a debutante. Having recently come out as queer, Natalie’s experience mirrored that of many of the debutantes and made the event even more special.

Melissa Barry, Diageo Portfolio Marketing Manager said, “Johnnie Walker has always been a fierce advocate for progress — both societal and personal. As a proud partner of Mardi Gras, embracing this moment as a chance to celebrate the trailblazers who paved the way for others to walk proudly and connecting them to newcomers who’d be walking for the first time was something we were delighted to make happen. We wish all those who celebrated this year a happy Mardi Gras and stand proudly with the wider community as we continue to Keep Walking Proudly together.”

Stacey Karayannis and Rosie Stone, Associate Creative Directors at Leo Burnett Australia, added, “We have enjoyed subverting the traditions of a debutante ball, but what we’re most proud of are the debutantes. Being able to bring their stories to life, create connections between the debutantes and trailblazers from the community, and celebrate their moment in front of a proud and welcoming crowd has been such a privilege.”

The event was supported by a launch across OOH, online film, activation, and social, with PR led by Publicis Groupe stablemate, Herd MSL.

Partner with adobo Magazine

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