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Parade lets advertisers reach thousands of eyes

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001


TAMPA -- Since May, a dozen marketing executives from Anheuser-Busch headquarters in St. Louis and Sea World in Orlando have strategized, conceptualized, brainstormed, budgeted, planned, reviewed and ultimately approved what could be the theme park's most important advertisement of 2001.

That would be its glitter-covered, 50-foot float in the Gasparilla parade, the one with the hidden portable toilet, fabricated killer whales and Miss Orlando waving at the crowd.

At an estimated $50,000, this is far from the most costly advertisement the park or its corporate owner will buy this year. But between the Gasparilla Parade and the extra attention brought by the Super Bowl, it could be the most widely seen.

"You don't get any bigger than the Super Bowl," said Cara Allen, a spokeswoman for Sea World.

Parade guidelines forbid floats with religious, social or political messages. Advertising is not forbidden, but the float must display "artistic beauty, use of color, animation, special effects, originality, costumes and visual appeal."

The evolution of this year's Sea World entry is an example of how an advertising concept becomes a float.

"It originates in this department," said Anne Solley, director of brand marketing for Sea World. "We try to feature whatever our key brand message is that year to Florida residents, usually the latest and greatest addition to the park or unexpected elements of the park."

The goal is to plant the idea in the heads of parade watchers that they really need to visit that theme park again.

First, however, is the critical recognition factor. Sea World's float always starts with two killer whales right up front. "The Shamu image gives people immediate recognition that this is our float," Solley said.

Next come the unexpected elements, such as a full-size fabricated polar bear and a small helicopter hovering over it, blades whirling while the bear swipes at it.

Then, the latest addition. This year, it's Kraken, a huge new roller coaster whose tracks are the tentacles of a giant sea monster by that name.

Kraken, a scaly looking beast with glowing eyes, proved to be tough to reproduce. Designers from Festive Floats in Tampa went to Orlando and took a ride on the coaster to help them get the feel of what the float should convey about the ride. It underwent several revisions before everybody was happy.

Once the final design is approved, the carpenters, painters and artists at Festive Floats get busy with glue, staple guns, 2 by 4's, glitter, paint and imagination.

Festive has produced 34 floats for this year's Gasparilla parade, one-third of the entries. It also supplies the float drivers.

Was it worth all the time a bunch of high-salaried executives spent contemplating a glitter-covered sea monster?

"It's probably the best exposure we'll get all year with the best viewing audience," Allen said.

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