ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Mayo, Florida is holding the mayo, at least for a few days.
The mayor of this tiny town of less than 1,500 residents, located where Florida’s Panhandle morphs into a peninsula, is announcing Saturday that the city is switching its name to “Miracle Whip.” But it’s a joke.
The name change started as a secret, tongue-in-cheek marketing proposal for the Kraft Heinz-owned mayonnaise-alternative. Videographers for Miracle Whip on Saturday wanted to capture the shock of residents when they hear that the name of their town is being changed to a corporate brand. Representatives of the condiment planned to spend the next few days filming their jocular efforts to get residents to remove mayonnaise from their homes.
The town’s elected officials say they will let residents in on the joke after a few days, but not before street signs and the name on the water tower have been switched out. The town located halfway between Tallahassee and Gainesville is getting between $15,000 and $25,000 for the name change, and the money will be used for city beautification measures.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Mayo’s mayor ran with the concept, insisting it would be a good idea to make the name change permanent.
“We aren’t going to be boring Mayo anymore. We are going to be Miracle Whip!” Ann Murphy said. “I definitely think this will put us on the map.”
Town clerk Linda Cone confirmed the name change is a prank and conceded that in a town so small it probably won’t take long for residents to figure it out. “Everybody knows everybody. It’s been kind of difficult to keep everything under wraps,” Cone said.
The mayor said city council members secretly discussed the deal with Miracle Whip during a closed session because secrecy was needed to achieve the surprise that Miracle Whip wants to capture. However, a closed session would seem to violate Florida’s Sunshine Law requiring meetings to be held publicly except under limited conditions, open-government advocate Barbara Petersen said.
“If this is all supposed to be a big joke perpetuated on residents, I expect they probably violated the law to pull it off,” said Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation. “I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but seriously, I don’t think they thought this through.”
The town got its original name from a confederate colonel, James Mayo, and it is the county seat of Lafayette County, Florida’s second-least populous county. Possibly its biggest claim to fame is being the hometown of Kerwin Bell, a former University of Florida quarterback. The area’s biggest employer is a state prison.
Other small cities have changed their names to brands, some temporarily and others permanently.
In 1950, Hot Springs, New Mexico, renamed itself Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, in order to get the game show broadcast from the town. Granville, North Dakota, temporarily became McGillicuddy City, North Dakota, in the 1990s after the distributor of the mint schnapps paid the town $100,000. In 2010, Topeka, Kansas, temporarily changed its name to Google, Kansas, in an unsuccessful effort to get the company to install a super-fast broadband network.
“I think people thought it was kind of funny and forward thinking,” said Carole Jordan, an official with the League of Women Voters in Topeka.
Branded name changes don’t work for every city, said Chantal Panozzo, chief content officer for The Brand Consultancy. She said one successful example was North Tarrytown, New York’s switch to Sleepy Hollow in the mid-1990s to honor its roots as the setting for Washington Irving’s story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
“If the town or corporation is just seeking notoriety, publicity or money without considering what the alignment of the naming really means, then it’s not true branding,” Panozzo said. “It’s just a stunt or a desperate cry for funds.”
Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP
Follow Josh Replogle: http://www.twitter.com/joshrepp