The Northern Florida town of Mayo in is temporarily changing its name to Miracle Whip. As you might guess, this is part of a marketing campaign by Miracle Whip maker Kaft Heinz, which is reportedly paying the town somewhere between $15,000 and $25,000 for the name change.
As far as that goes, this is not an unusual story. IHOP, the International House of Pancakes, temporarily became IHOB, the International House of Burgers, to mixed reviews. Hot Springs, New Mexico changed its name to Truth or Consequences in order to bring the then-popular game show to town. Topeka, Kansas tried the same approach, temporarily changing its name to Google, in the hopes that the search giant would bring high-speed internet, but it didn’t. North Tarrytown, New York even changed its name to Sleepy Hollow, just to make sure people knew it was the setting for Washington Irving’s headless horseman story.
But there’s one big difference. None of these other towns claimed to be trying to play a trick on 1,232 unsuspecting residents. Mayo–or, rather, Miracle Whip–town officials seem to think they can fool everybody who lives in their community into thinking the name change is permanent.
The idea of the prank is for videographers from Miracle Whip to record townspeople’s reactions when they discover that their street signs and water tower are being changed to the new name. They also want to record what happens when people in town are asked to give up any mayonnaise they may have in their homes, presumably to be replaced with Miracle Whip.
How exactly did town officials expect to fool 1,232 people? For starters, they held a closed-to-the-public meeting with Kraft Heinz where they worked out the details of the surprise. Ann Murphy, the mayor, gamely tried to stick with the illusion that the name change was permanent, telling the Associated Press, “We’re not going to be boring old Mayo anymore. We are going to be Miracle Whip! I definitely think this will put us on the map.” (In case you’re wondering, the town got its original name from Confederate Colonel James Mayo.)
Unfortunately for the town’s wannabe prankster leadership, Linda Cone, town clerk, was more forthcoming, admitting to reporters that, yup, the name change is temporary and that town officials were trying to fool residents, at least for a few days, by pretending it was permanent. But in a town of just over 1,200 people, she added, everyone knows everyone and it’s not easy to keep a secret. “It’s been kind of difficult to keep everything under wraps.”
Nothing is under wraps anymore. Any residents who might have been fooled probably are in on the joke now since the story’s gone out over the Associated Press and has appeared in the Tampa Bay Times and on a local TV station’s website.
So that would appear to be that, except for one thing. That closed meeting town officials held with Kraft Heinz to plan their prank? It may have been illegal under Florida’s Sunshine Law, which guarantees open access to most government meetings.
“If this is all supposed to be a big joke perpetuated on residents, I expect they probably violated the law to pull it off,” Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation located in Tallahassee told the Associated Press. “I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but seriously, I don’t think they thought this through.”