Traveling Music Byways

by Lynne W. Jeter

Published: July 9,2007

When someone asked Sandy Bynum why Mississippi considered itself The Birthplace of American Music, she had a ready answer.

“Well, Robert Johnson of the Delta is considered the father of the blues, Jimmie Rodgers of Meridian birthed country music and Elvis Presley, a native of Tupelo, was the king of rock and roll,” said Bynum, senior manager of advertising, publication and promotions for the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) tourism division. “That’s pretty convincing stuff!”

Touting Mississippi’s musical heritage is part of the niche marketing campaign developed by the state tourism department to boost visitors and capture more of their travel dollars. During fiscal year 2006, more than 20 million visitors spent $5.2 billion in Mississippi, making it the sixth most significant industry in the state. And based on the fiscal year 2006 Ad Effectiveness Study, for every $1 spent advertising Mississippi to the domestic consumer market, there was a $10 return on the investment.

Quinton Dickerson, president of Frontier Strategies, the advertising agency working with MDA, said pursuing a niche marketing campaign rather than one with traditional mass appeal “gives us more bang for the buck.”

“Our state advertising budget is smaller than other states, so it’s not possible to out-shout everyone else.”

When Frontier Strategies landed the state tourism account three years ago, instead of producing a typical tourism ad that focuses on several elements in a singular spot and hoping something sticks, Dickerson’s team focused on new ideas to reflect the unique, authentic experience visitors find in Mississippi that embodies the surprise factor. “That’s something we hear over and over, how surprised visitors were about something they found in Mississippi,” said Dickerson. “We want to capitalize on that.”

While also marketing to Baby Boomers facing retirement, the ad campaign targets a younger age group, the coveted 25- to 34-year-olds with earning power and seemingly limitless calendar days. The reach also extends past the traditional 250-mile radius to 750 miles.

“We’re targeting outdoors enthusiasts, retirees, golfers, those who love arts and crafts, food, history buffs and music lovers in a much wider geographic area,” noted Dickerson, whose design team developed hip, trendy print ads with motion “so people will stop turning pages in a magazine and pay attention to us.” Television spots feature fast-paced editing and music.

The state ad campaign, which also focuses on Web site/interactive media, draws on Southern humor and good-naturedness. The arts and crafts print ad, “2,300 Degrees Can Be Very Cool,” reads, “We don’t know if it’s in the water or not, but we have quite a creative streak. Witness the many artists and artisans who grace us with their talents. From outside art and fine art to eclectic pottery and elegant glass shaped in a 2,300 degree furnace, you’re sure to find something you’ll want to start collecting.”v
No pun intended concerning Mississippi’s hot, humid, sticky climate.v
In the outdoors print ad, a kayaker serenely paddles in calm waters as the sun sets. “Conference calls, e-mails, voicemails — everywhere you turn, somebody takes a chunk out of your day. Maybe it’s time for a Mississippi adventure. Ready for rock climbing, kayaking, hiking, biking, bird watching or camping? Birds don’t have staff meetings. Water doesn’t worry about deadlines. Wildflowers don’t set alarm clocks. Looking for a schedule like that? Mississippi has it all!”

In the food lovers print ad prepared for publications such as Gourmet, visitors are encouraged to “Try Some of Everything.” “If you believe there’s more to food than eating, pull up a chair … It’s so good you could forget your manners.”v
The music spot, “Live from the Birthplace of American Music,” reads, “Blues, country, rock ‘n’ roll. It all started right here. And on any given night, it’s still going strong. From the Coast to the Delta to the northern hills, singers and musicians make juke joints, clubs and concert halls rock. Fans come here from around the world to sit down front and see the real thing — live and a-live, as we say. Novice or connoisseur, you should, too. Call or check out VisitMississippi.org to get your free ‘Mississippi Tourism Guide.’ Then look for the neon, listen for the applause, and come on in for the show.”

The challenge that Mississippi and every other state has, Dickerson pointed out, is how to convey to potential tourists “that we’re different.”

“The good news is Mississippi has so many interesting, real and authentic places, events and things for people to experience,” he said. “When people come to visit, the time they spend meeting and interacting with Mississippians is the best part because it really gives visitors a connection to our state that makes them want to come back again.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.

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