Campaign promotes South

Published 2:02 am Saturday, September 27, 2008

I almost missed the most interesting email I received this week, thanks to a junk mail filter.

But a chance double-checking of the junk mail folder on the day of the first presidential debate made me want to open one with this subject: Is Mississippi Still Burning? Ole Miss Presidential Debate.

Already a little shocked after reading that Ole Miss had spent more than $5 million preparing for the debate, I was intrigued to learn that a Mississippi PR firm did $500,000 in pro bono work to promote the state beginning in 2006, and much of it was on display for the approximately 3,000 journalists who flocked to Oxford for the debate.

The project began when Mississippi businessman Rick Looser had an airline conversation with a 12-year-old from Connecticut who asked him if he “still saw the KKK on the streets every day” … and whether or not he “hates all black people.”

Those questions were the catalysts of the campaigns designed to combat Mississippi stereotypes.

“Yes, we can read. A few of us can even write.”

My favorite of the agency’s ads has that headline and features photographs of 14 famous writers among our neighbors to the west Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and John Grisham among them.

Another is about music: “No Black. No White. Just The Blues.”

“Some see the world in black and white. Others see varying shades of gray. But, Mississippi taught the world to see … and hear … the Blues.”

Still another highlights the story of the Viking Range Corporation: “Yes, we have running water … right next to the world’s finest kitchen appliances.”

“It started with a range. A special range Fred Carl’s wife wanted for her new kitchen, but that he couldn’t find anywhere. So what did he do? He took his Mississippi-bred initiative and built it himself. From that one range grew an appliance empire – Viking Range Corporation – right out of Greenwood, Mississippi.”

Other ads promote professional athletes, government diversity, medical advances, and NASA’s center for excellence.

The very clever work (which can been seen at has been used in newspapers, magazines, and on posters distributed to schools throughout the state. And it all started with a question from a 12-year-old.

The campaign could as easily have been written for Alabama.

Unfortunately, across much of the country, many believe we still have mostly unpaved roads, live solely on fried food and all drive pick-ups. Some of us do, but we also have a rich culture, wonderful family traditions and a love of place.

Or as Tony DeMonia of Vinemont, Ala., once told the Pennsylvania man who would become his son-in-law, “Son, you’ve never heard of anyone wanting to retire and move up north.”

Mississippi’s campaign underscores many of the reasons why.