Thursday, December 07, 2006

I Don't Believe It

In Mississippi, an ad shop (the Cirlot Agency) has created a series of PSAs promoting the state. They're interesting; rather than do some bland stuff about the state's positives, they go right for the common negative perceptions the rest of the country has about Mississippi and tackles them. The campaign is called Mississippi, Believe It! and MSNBC recently wrote about it.

The ads are pretty good. The approach reminds me of our local Houston, It's Worth It campaign (also designed by a local creative shop) and as a resident of a place that's perceived negatively elsewhere, I'm sympathetic to what they're doing.

It's also a good business move, I think; potential clients in Mississippi not only get to see the agency's chops, but they will probably appreciate someone doing something good for the state.

That said... there's a problem with the ads.

Take a look at the "Yes, We Can Read" ad. It's a reference to the appallingly low literacy late in Mississippi. The ad points out that Mississippi writers have made great contributions to American literature. But most of the writers are from the past... and Mississippi has the highest rate of illiteracy in the nation. It's nice that the state produced Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and William Faulkner, but if I need to hire a capable workforce there, what good does that do me?

Another ad is about health care, and points out that the first heart transplant took place in Mississippi. Something to be proud of, true... unlike the state's highest-in-the-US infant mortality rate.

The problem here, I think, is that they are highlighting things that have little impact on a business in Mississippi or a person who might consider living there. It's not an unreasonable approach, because hard data suggests that Mississippi is not an easy product to sell; it's a poor state with an uneducated work force.

But maybe there was a better way. I'll point to the "Houston, It's Worth It" campaign again (for the record, I played no part in creating it). It doesn't talk about NASA or the oil industry or famous people from Houston. The centerpiece is ordinary Houstonians talking about why they love calling this sprawling, sweaty town swathed in concrete, with its flying roaches the size of hamsters and polluted air, home.

I'm sure that there are Mississippians who love their state and could bend our ears telling us why. And what they have to say might be more convincing for people thinking of living or investing in the state. If we were hearing from them, a good campaign might have been great.

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