New Mardi Gras app will help monitor parades

On Mardi Gras, history is almost sure to repeat itself. Thousands of tourists — and locals — will wake up bright and early and head out to the neutral grounds and sidewalks on Jackson and St. Charles Avenues with hopes of snagging a Zulu coconut. Then, they'll wait. And wait. And wait.

zulu-mardi-gras-2010.jpgView full sizeA rider aboard the Fess foast hands a spear to a parade-goer as Zulu rolls down St. Charles and Canal Street on Feb. 16, 2010.

They’ll wonder if they read the parade schedule wrong, walk into the middle of the street to see if anything is coming, and then it will hit them like a double-decker float: Zulu always runs late.

But this year, smart phone owners will be able to sleep in. Even though they could be miles away from the parade, thanks to a new app with a built-in parade tracker, they’ll be in the know.

The parade tracker relies on devices placed on the head and tail floats of select parades, said Rob Hudak, the interactive creative director at Zehnder Communication Inc., the New Orleans company that created the app in partnership with television station WWL.

The free app, called Experience Mardi Gras, is in its early stages but still will allow parade-goers and those hoping to avoid parade traffic to track up to one parade every day starting with Muses on March 3 and ending with Zulu on Fat Tuesday. The app also features a post-parade events section and live streaming video of select parades.

“This is version 1.0, and we hope it grows into a more robust app experience,” Hudak said. “We’re talking about adding social and augmented reality components. Something almost like an extension of the Mardi Gras experience.”

There are a handful of apps connected with Carnival, but Zehnder and WWL’s app actually provides real-time tracking of Carnival parades, without relying on user-generated reports.

Production of the app began in December and comes on the heels of a successful Voodoo Experience music festival app that the agency launched in October. Augmented reality was heavily utilized in that app.

With the Voodoo Experience app, concert-goers could point their smart phone cameras at a band and the app would tell them who was currently on stage. It would also give them information about the band and who was playing next.

By panning the camera around the premises, users could see where they could go to the bathroom or where they could get their next beer. By pointing it at a vendor, users could look at the menu items available at that concession stand.

Hudak envisions using the same concept for the Experience Mardi Gras app by 2012.

“An idea we’re throwing around is doing virtual throws, so that when you point your phone at a float, it’ll have a button that you can press to get a throw, which could be a coupon to a sponsor,” he said.

Sponsors currently include Zatarain’s and Tabasco, but Hudak expects to add restaurants and bars on the parade route in future versions of the app.

Cullen Wheatley can be reached at or 504.826.3495.