Here is my full article on the campaign as it appears in the USM newspaper:
By David McRaney
Most people from Mississippi carry more than luggage when they travel.
If you hail from the Magnolia state, you not only carry with you a significant Southern drawl and a love for fried okra wherever you go, but also the legacy of a place identified with some of the darkest moments in America's past. Even without the history, Mississippians must fight against stereotypes stemming from some of the most unfortunate statistical rankings of any state in the union.
Recently, Rick Looser, Chief Operating Officer of The Cirlot Agency, decided to do something about Mississippi's inferiority complex.
At his company's own expense an advertising campaign entitled "Mississippi, Believe It!" was created to promote a more positive image of the state.
The 11 print advertisements feature taglines like "Yes we can read. Some of us can even write."
Images of famous Mississippi writers like William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and John Grisham are featured below the words, and the ads cinch up the idea with an explanatory paragraph or two outlining just why Mississippi is better than most people think.
Another ad offers a row of headshots with well-known black musicians like B.B. King and Bo Diddly; above, the words read 'No Black. No White. Just the Blues.-
According to a press release from the agency, the ads implore the rest of the world to have a change of heart about Mississippi.
"I like to say that this is some shut-up juice for people outside our state," said Looser.
Looser said he was on a plane last year when he told a 12-year-old Connecticut child sitting next to him he was from Mississippi. The boy then asked if the state was still full of Ku Klux Klansmen. After explaining to the boy modern Mississippi was not like what most people see in movies and television, he decided to design a campaign to combat the negative stereotype.
Looser believes the regional prejudice Mississippi natives are subjected to is something many people consider not only acceptable, but continuously propagate.
"What we tried to do is take every stereotype and turn it on its ear," he added.
The state Department of Education has agreed to have posters designed by the agency delivered to every school in the state. Looser described students as "citizen ambassadors" who he believes must be taught a sense of pride about Mississippi.
William Scarborough, professor of history at USM, thinks the campaign is a good idea, but the negative stereotype is not entirely inaccurate.
'I've been here 45 years,- said Scarborough, 'and there are still some serious problems. The educational system is not good. To see that, all you have to do is listen to a sheriff in Indiana describing a crime on television and a sheriff here doing the same. Or, look at the letters to the editor in the local newspaper.-
Scarborough went on to say race relations are much better than 40 years ago, and many other things have improved since he first arrived, but he believes the state has a long way to go.
Scarborough added Mississippi is a poverty stricken state with the lowest per capita income in the nation.
'We are not a good as some other states,- said Scarborough. 'It's going to take more than an ad campaign to improve things.-
Mississippi has garnered considerable sympathy because of Hurricane Katrina, he said. The negative image did not prevent people from coming to the state from all over the U.S., and many people saw the spirit of the people, which probably helped to dispel stereotypes, said Scarborough.
Still, he believes students attending a Mississippi university who attempt to get into graduate school in another state will suffer because of the state's tainted image.
USM Assistant Director for News and Marketing Christopher Mapp said the stereotype also affects people who transfer to the university from other states.
'Any misperceptions visitors have about our state or about Southern Miss are quickly dispelled the moment they set foot on campus,- said Mapp.
Mapp believes in addition to having one of the loveliest campuses in the country with the friendliest people, the university also has some of the finest faculty, students and facilities anywhere.
Mapp added he supports the campaign.
'Mississippi has contributed so much to the great artistic and literary fabric of this nation that it's hard to imagine what our country would be like without its cultural influence,- he said. 'While our past also has its shameful side, Mississippians are by and large proud of their traditions and heritage, and it's nice to see a PR campaign that's rooted in that pride.-
The Cirlot Agency has donated over $100,000 in time and resources to produce the campaign. Service Printers, Inc., of Flowood also donated over $20,000 in services to print the posters.
The ads can be viewed at www.mississippibelieveit.com.