If such a thing as a captive advertising audience ever existed, one could be found in the Grove on football gamedays.
So it’s no surprise that Ole Miss officials have spent untold amounts of money and energy keeping the popular tailgating spot free of advertisers and solicitors “to keep it from becoming the Canton Flea Market,” said Andy Mullins, chief of staff to Chancellor Dan Jones and chairman of the Gameday Committee.
Those reins will be loosened this upcoming football season, but not by much: The university has contracted with a local start-up to install advertising on the interior of the portable restrooms that have become Grove staples since they first arrived about a decade ago. The Hotty Toddy Potties, like every other part of the Grove, had been completely off-limits to any form of political or business advertising or solicitation. Their outsides still are; only the inside will be adorned with advertisements.
Rounding up advertisers for the restrooms is Addison Edmonds, who started The Indoor ADvantage in 2009, shortly before he graduated from Ole Miss’ school of business.
Edmonds said the framed ads that will line the walls of the Hotty Toddy Potties won’t look anything like what you’d find in a truck stop or a convenience store.
“They are very elegant frames,” he said. “They’re about 18’ by 24’ in size, and there’s four 8’ by 10’ ads. I’ve got a great graphic designer; he makes everything look elegant. It’s not like we just print stuff out of my home computer and throw it up in a frame. It’s better-looking than what you think of when you first hear of restroom advertising.”
Office Depot, Direct Buy and Green Door, an Oxford company specializing in reclaimed and refurbished furniture, have signed on. Edmonds said frames and orders to his printer were sent last week, and installation of the 90 total frames would begin this week. Work will be completed in time for Ole Miss’ season opener Sept. 3 against BYU.
Mullins and Larry Sparks, vice chancellor for administration and finance, both said opening up the interiors of the Hotty Toddy Potties is not a step down the slippery slope of turning the Grove into an advertising extravaganza.
“We have university policies about political campaigning as well as vendor solicitation on campus during gameday,” said Sparks, whose office had to sign-off on the deal and who will have to sign-off on any changes in advertisers. “We’ve tried to really control that because it could become overwhelming. But this is university-sponsored, and it’s confined to that one space.” Revenue generated from the ads will go into the school’s Preserve the Grove fund, which is used to maintain the 10-acre green space and to defray gameday expenses.
Edmonds, originally from Brentwood, Tenn., has had designs on starting his own advertising business since childhood. He approached Sparks and other Ole Miss officials in the late winter of this year about his idea for the Hotty Toddy Potties.
“I explained to them what we do, we came to an agreement and it pretty much doubled my business right away,” Edmonds said. “We’ve just been working real hard to get it all done and get everything finalized so we can go out and get some more advertisers for it.”
Before he landed the deal for the Hotty Toddy Potties, Edmonds had framed ads hanging in the restrooms of 30 locations around Oxford, mainly restaurants and bars. He also had agreements for the same at the new sports complex west of town and the Oxford Conference Center. That’s a far cry from when he started with only three restaurants.
“It was so hard to seem legitimate when I only had about 10 frames out there,” Edmonds said. “I had to basically ask advertisers to trust me and trust that it would work. It definitely helps me look legitimate (with all the new business) than it did when I first started out.”
The ads within the Hotty Toddy Potties perfectly legal, Mullins can spend his gamedays making sure no goods or services are being promoted or sold in other parts of the Grove. He said one recent football season he busted a tent set up by a national hardware chain. Even though no money was changing hands, promotional freebies were flowing like Grove bourbon, and it was just as frowned upon.
“I have to be the bad guy sometimes, but most of them understand once I explain it to them,” he said. “You have to be a lot more aggressive than most people realize.”