TORONTO—The Toronto Caribbean Carnival (formerly known as Caribana) celebrated yet another summer in the Canadian city with a colorful, costumed street parade, live music, and—for the first time ever—a gifting and activation suite. Dubbed Carnival Oasis—and produced by creative agency The Well Connected, Stephen Spencer, the event principal at Pursuit & Exhale Agency and Craigg Slowly, the principal at Craigg Slowly Media—the one-day event elevated “the overall Carnival experience, which took place July 28-Aug. 1, by providing something that hasn’t been done for Carnival before,” explained Jackie Clarke, the founder of The Well Connected.
Clarke told BizBash that Carnival Oasis was “something engaging” that “filled the dead space” in between the Caribbean Carnival’s festivities. At the event, beyond a step-and-repeat at the venue’s cobblestoned entrance, guests on the invite-only list were welcomed with a drink in one hand and an empty shopping bag in another.
Attendees then perused seven on-site activations from more than 25 brands, which each offered goodies for guests to fill their totes. Take Red Bull, for example, which showed up at Carnival Oasis with a video game console and the brand’s iconic Wing Girls, who handed out cans of the energy drink. Total PR, meanwhile, collaborated with Travel Saint Lucia, The Bay Gardens Resort, and Stonefield Villa Resorts to create a social media photo contest and give away two trips to, fittingly, the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia.
Other standouts? Sleepvenie’s curated photo booth experience, where eventgoers could try out the brand’s Hunter Mattress in a fun photo moment. (Sleepveenie also gave away a mattress to one lucky winner.) Or Pong Studios’ casino corner, where lucky guests could try their hand at two casino-style games and walk away with complimentary cards loaded with 2,500 credits.
But not all activating brands gave away tangible gifts. Take Bodied Beauty’s booth, where handouts came in the form of on-site massages and IV drips courtesy of InjectHER as part of a “Rejuvenate” experience.
And although “a gifting suite isn’t new,” as Clarke pointed out, it offered guests an experience that allowed them to “deep-dive into Caribbean culture through a familiar experience.” Presented as a pass-through lounge, 250 influencers, media personalities, and artists were able to explore the three-story Sid Lee marketing agency.
Who made the list, you ask? Patricia Jaggernauth, a reporter for Toronto’s breaking news station CP24; HGTV’s Nicole Babb; Adrian Walters, known for his role on The Handmaid’s Tale; and interior designer and influencer Jaclyn Genovese, among many others.
When asked about how the gifting suite came about, Jackie said that she, along with Spencer and Slowly, “have worked in PR and events for years during the Toronto Caribbean Carnival and have come across celebrities, talent, influencers, and media who fly into town and either have no real concept of what Carnival is, miss the parade, or don’t feel safe participating due to their status and logistics.”
Cue the Carnival Oasis experience, where these tastemakers were given a safe space to experience what Toronto’s Caribbean Carnival is all about. And “once they filled their bags,” Clarke explained, guests “were encouraged to stay within the suite to dance, eat, play, and make endless connections.”
In a type of after-party, DJ Mars Forever spun tracks “to keep the vibes going with Caribbean-inspired music and sounds,” while costumed carnival spice dancers “danced and engaged with guests throughout the night,” and Taste Jamaica “offered a sensual tasting experience by treating guests to three flavors of Jamaican rum cake,” Clarke described of the guest experience.
And when asked why other planners should consider utilizing a gifting suite to level-up their events, Clarke responded: “It’s an interactive way to create an intimate experience, as well as create marketing and social content for your sponsors and/or partners." (Clarke’s event used the hashtag #CarnivalOasis22.) However, she warned that “gifts need to be themed and tailored to complement the overall experience and speak to the brand’s goals and message.”