By Eoin McKenna
My relationship with Mississippi dates back to my 5th grade summer, the year 2008. That year my mother was hired to work for the NAACP headquarters in Jackson.
While she traveled to Mississippi for the summer, I stayed in San Diego with my father. During this time, my mother became better acquainted with the state.
Our family is from the North, and the farthest South we have relatives, in is Virginia, so deep South culture was an entirely new experience for her. The summer passed, and the souvenir she brought back for me was the classic Ole Miss T-shirt. This shirt with its bold red lettering was my only concept of Mississippi.
During the next school year, sixth grade, my teacher introduced the class to the civil rights movement. In this unit, I saw horrific imagery of the South. The events of the Little Rock Nine, the Birmingham Bombing, and the Ole Miss Riot of 1962 stood out. These images were now my perception of the South, especially Mississippi. I now understood the state as a place of violence and racism.
That 6th grade summer, I accompanied my mom to Mississippi for her summer work. We stayed in Greenwood, and during that summer, my perception of the state changed again.
The time I spent in the Delta and the things I did there left me with a sense of awe of the natural beauty of the state, the laid back demeanor of the people, and incredible food. I now understood there was more to this place than what I learned in school.
When I decided to attend Ole Miss, I got a lot of confused looks. Like myself, before my initial visit, most people I had spoken to had the concept the state was exclusively made up of racial issues, and there was not much here.
The majority of people I interact with usually say something along the lines of, “Mississippi huh? What’s that like,” usually with strong implications that they think of it as a place of backward ideals, racism and poverty. The time I have spent here has proved these assumptions to be incorrect.
The Oh Yes We Did advertising campaign was headed up by Domino’s pizza in 2010. In an effort to show potential customers the improved quality of their pizza, Domino’s created a series of advertisements to show they understood the criticisms mounted against them, and they said they revamped their pizza, making it more delicious.
The result made Domino’s one of the fastest growing fast food and delivery chains in the country, and it was undoubtedly a wild success.
My Mississippi marketing campaign will be comparable to Oh Yes We Did, showing stereotypes of the state in advertisements, then immediately following these stereotypes with proof they are now invalid.
For example, I have had personal conversations with individuals who didn’t think the state was beautiful. Taking inspiration from that, I would film an interview with an individual describing Mississippi as an non-beautiful place, then surprise them with images of the state’s beautiful beaches.
We will also do interviews with people who describe Mississippi as uneducated, then surprise them with stats and fact, such as the fact that the University of Mississippi’s business school is one of the top in the country, or Mississippi is where the United State’s first lung transplant occurred.
This acknowledgment of stereotyping, then instantly proving wrong said stereotypes, is sure to garner massive attention because of its honesty and shocking actuality.
The next step of the PR campaign will be an attempt to generate positive viral attention with a Mississippi story that paints the state in a good light. In the past, stories of generosity in the form of tips to waiters have gone viral. The same sort of story in Mississippi is sure to gain attention and showcase the hospitality of the state.
In an attempt to test drive my concept, I contacted a few family and friends and gave them specific instructions. The individuals I selected for the process were people I knew had never visited Mississippi, making them perfect for my purposes.
I sent them an email, and told them not to open the email until I instructed them to. From there, I asked participants to describe Mississippi.
Although my participants’ descriptions were polite, they still thought Mississippi was non-beautiful, uneducated, and didn’t have much to offer. After the participants were done sharing their thoughts about the state, I had them open the email I had sent them.
Photos were attached to the mail showcasing the beautiful aspects of Mississippi, such as the beaches or the Delta, and there were news stories about great things that came from Mississippi. The participants were shocked, and they gained a new perspective about the state.
If I were to do this all again, I would get individuals to participate who have zero affiliation with me or Mississippi. That way, nobody would hold back with their initial thoughts on the state for the sake of being polite.
Given more time, I would seek individuals in other areas of the country, such as Washington, D.C., getting a more honest initial assessment of the state. To reach more people, I would most likely need a team of individuals conducting the same operation, and I would cast a wider net, garnering more reactions.
My small scale operation was enough to get my message across, and it is proof the concept as a whole can have a deep impact on an individual’s perception of Mississippi.
Through this project, I learned that Mississippi has a lot to offer, but people are simply not aware these things exist. When they become aware, it shocks them. I now know it is important to get the word out about Mississippi, because people are willing to listen.