Leo Burnett Australia & Johnnie Walker Host Mardi Gras Debutante Ball For Festival First-Timers

Leo Burnett Australia & Johnnie Walker Host Mardi Gras Debutante Ball For Festival First-Timers
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

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.

Recognising 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 towards 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.

“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,” said Melissa Barry, portfolio marketing manager at Diageo.

“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,” said Stacey Karayannis and Rosie Stone, associate creative directors at Leo Burnett Australia.

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

Campaign Credits

Diageo | Johnnie Walker

Melissa Barry Marketing Manager

Emma Ryan Brand Manager

Rebekah Allison Media & Connections Planning Lead

Hayden Abercrombie, Marketing & Innovation Director


Leo Burnett Australia | Johnnie Walker

Account Management

James Walker-Smith General Manager

Andrew Thistlethwaite Group Business Director

Gemma Cox Group Business Director

Cameron Dobbelsteyn Business Director

Rosie Dingle Senior Business Manager



Dhiv Pillai Senior Strategy Director



Andy Fergusson National Chief Creative Officer

Tim Woolford Group Creative Director

Tommy Cehak Group Creative Director

Stacey Karayannis Associate Creative Director

Rosie Stone Associate Creative Director

Johnson Diep Conceptual Designer


Production / Studio

Tamara Kennon – Senior Integrated Producer

Francesca D’Orazio – Senior Film Producer


PR – Herd MSL

Rachel Shun Group Account Director

Janete Sampaio Senior Account Director

Savannah Fielder Account Director

Ross Stebbing Account Director

Mirna Elsabie Account Manager

Sarah Findlay Senior Account Executive

Lucy Lincoln Account Coordinator


Experiential Production, Design & Programming – Alfred

Stuart Couzens Founder

Mason Browne Senior Creative Producer


Media – Foundation

Tegan Conn Business Director

Natasha Galasso Account Manager

Maggie Concepcion Account Coordinator


Director: Selina Miles

Executive Producers: Adrian Shapiro & Kate Gooden

Producer: Tessa Simpson

DOP: Scott Heldorf

1st AC: John Young

Sound: Lee Kelly

Gaffer: Pete Sutton

Best Boy: Ting (Adisug) Tubtim

Art Director: Aisha Phillips

Wardrobe Stylist: Kellie Montgomery

Hair and Makeup Artist: Mat Hornby

Food Stylist: Nicola Sinclair

Stills Photographer: Milos Mlynarik


Editor: Selina Miles

Grade & Online: Matt Fezz

Sound Studio: Sonar



Director: Selina Miles

Executive Producers: Adrian Shapiro & Kate Gooden

Producer: Tessa Simpson

On-Set Production Coord: Eloise Flanagan

Production Assistant: Olivia Sawyer

DOP: Scott Heldorf

1st AC (A CAM): Julian Pertout

1st AC (B CAM): Anna McGirr

Sound: Lee Kelly

Wardrobe Stylist: Leon Krasenstein

Hair and Makeup Artist: Yen Hoang

Hair and Makeup Artist: Anastasia Pappas


Editor: Selina Miles / Chris Ward

Grade & Online: Matt Fezz

Sound Studio: Squeak E Clean

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