Bucket List Birthplace

For fans of Elvis Presley, there are several sacred sites that are must-see (Graceland, Sun Studios, Lauderdale Courts, and the Las Vegas Hilton, for instance). When I found a woman who would marry me, I had to balance the fact that finding another woman willing to marry me who was also an Elvis fan (or another woman at all) was statistically significant. I choose wisely. So, when I have an opportunity I have to take it. When traveling back from Atlanta, Georgia, I knew an opportunity would present itself to stop in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Let’s face it, Tupelo is not the center of the universe, so finding a reason to turn off of Highway 78 was not that easy. Here are my options. Number 1: Figure the exact mileage from Atlanta and adjust my speed and gas consumption to make sure we are forced to buy fuel in Tupelo. (This option was immediately ruled out since it involved math.) Number 2: Locate a tourist attraction, also in Tupelo, that could be considered unlawful to not take my wife and children there. (This option was immediately out; remember we are talking about Tupelo.) Number 3: Explain to my wife that seeing the birthplace of Elvis is on the bucket list of 9 out of 10 native Memphians. (She’s not from Memphis and has other priorities.) Number 4: Give my children Benadryl so that they sleep for 4.6 hours, distract my wife by talking to her about my emotions for 4.6 hours, and test the durability of my bladder for 4.6 hours. (It worked!)

For those who haven’t figured it out yet, we stopped at the birthplace and first home of Elvis in Tupelo, Mississippi, despite my wife’s “really?” comment after I said we should check it out. With three well-rested and energetic kids, an empty bladder, and a wet pair of pants (from the tears I shed through an 4.6-hour emotional cleansing) we were ready to see something.

Tupelo is a quaint little southern town and the neighborhood surrounding the historic site (yes, it is) was filled with children playing and riding bicycles. Overall the neighborhood in Tupelo is much better than the neighborhood surrounding Graceland these days.

The park and gardens are very well cared for, inviting, and presented nicely. The visitor center holds a museum and collection but I have to admit, I was taken back by the $12 adult and $6 entrance fee to the museum (that also included access to the house, church, and chapel). For my family, a $42 admission is a lot to pay for something only two-fifths of the family was interested in (William always sides with me). They do offer free access to the grounds, exteriors of structures, and gardens, which is a nice alternative.

Here are some images and thoughts.

The site’s logo is found through out the museum. I liked it at first but it still seems like they are missing an apostrophe or something.

The Story Wall starts off easy and enjoyable, but turns into an exhibit with more text than I have ever seen in a series of wayside exhibits. They were well-written in the voice of the person telling the story, but after a few I was done with it and two of my children were moving the life-size bronze statue of Elvis at age 12. Gracie may or may not have thought the statue was Justin Bieber. These exhibits left me saying “Don’t Be Cruel.”

At least the type is left justified/ragged right, I guess.

I received a scalding look from the gift shop sales associate when I tried to take a picture of a sign that was an impressive use of Comic Sans. If I had that picture, I would insert it here and say something like, “After seeing this sign in the gift shop, I was Crying in the Chapel.” Okay, so maybe it is better that I didn’t get the picture. I now know how to silence the noises my camera makes.

The best thing to see there, as always, is the thing itself, or in this case, the house. I was happy having my picture made on the front porch and imagining how young Elvis’ life was different from mine.

For the most part, Tupelo has tried to capitalize on the fame (much like the hometowns of Paul and me, due to the popularity of the book/blog, minus the jumpsuits, countless gold records, and millions of worldwide fans) that a young boy has brought them as being the place where he was born. They probably don’t want to plant the seed that you have to leave Tupelo to succeed. The most compelling part of the site’s story is that Elvis came from Tupelo to be the king of rock ‘n’ roll.

World of Coca-Cola Part 2 – Soda Shangri-La

Last week I don’t think I was efficient at expressing my thoughts about the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia. Perhaps I was too excited about opening day of the Major League Baseball season. I didn’t mean to come across as harsh because the place is really cool.

One of the major tenets behind Coca-Cola advertising is enjoyment. Phrases such as “Have a Coke and a smile” or “Enjoy Coca-Cola” encourage those who drink the soda to sit back, relax, and enjoy their product. That’s probably where it went wrong for me.  I try to look at interpretive sites of various types objectively and enjoy them for what they are, but I have now confirmed that I cannot enjoy anything. Being a fuddy duddy is really a drag.

As an interpretive designer, I am constantly searching for the next non-personal Shangri-La where images, type, resources, and interpretation all come together, hold hands, and sing “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and I feel self-actualization land on me like a truckload of Diet Coke. When what I should be doing is simply enjoying things for what they are, much like a soda.

When it comes down to it, interpretation should help build a connection between the visitor and the site. We can’t make assumptions; the visitor needs to be involved in the process, and opportunities for reinforcing the experience should be developed.

Some of the interpretive elements of the World of Coca-Cola seemed forced by making the assumption that visitors already think highly of the product. If you don’t have an affinity or some interest in Coke, it is difficult to think that an exhibit is going to give you warm fuzzies (that’s right, I’ve used the words fuddy duddy and warm fuzzizes in the same post) about a multi-million dollar corporation.

Regardless of how snazzy the technology is, how well selected the typeface is, or how well crafted the theme is we can’t make assumptions about our visitors. This is important for more traditional interpretive sites (museums, parks, and nature centers) to remember. We can’t assume that our visitors already find value in what we have to offer, what our mission is, and what our stories are.

In my opinion this exhibit (described last week) made the assumption mentioned above.

This was not the case for the entire site. One exhibit titled “A Coca-Cola Story” allowed visitors to be involved in the process. In my assessment of how visitors were using all of the exhibits, many visitors seemed to be spending much more time at this exhibit than any other.

Have you ever looked at someone and asked yourself “Do I look that old?” or “Is my gut that big?” or “What is wrong with Paul?” If so, then you can connect with this exhibit. Visitors have the opportunity to provide a story of special moments in their lives that involved Coke or how Coke has impacted their lives in various ways.

I think many of the visitors are drawn to see how their experiences (with Coke) compare to others. Many of the stories were funny while others were heart wrenching and inspiring. Where the stories of inspiration (mentioned above) were polished like a commercial, these stories were “The Real Thing.”

Of course after reading them, you want to leave your own.

My son decided to send his in digitally. I’m sure the code-breakers at Coke are still working on his story.

Three opportunities for reinforcement of the message were provided at the end of the experience. The first is appropriately titled Taste It!

You can’t visit this site without developing a serious hankerin’ for a drink of Coke. This where the minds behind the development of the museum took an opportunity to the next level, very successfully. You would expect a free sample but the opportunity to try 60 different Coke products from around the world? Now we’re talking.

As with all of the displays there, the dispensers were striking and used color-changing lights that added a unique atmosphere. This was the opportunity to for you to experience Coke in a new way. The picture above is before.

This is after.

The gift shop provided reinforcement to underlying themes and messages. Products such as these chairs made out of recycled Coke products support their green efforts.

The final reinforcement is that you get to take one of the Cokes bottled there on site, off the assembly line, to keep and remind you of your visit or to be given to your son in small doses to to help bring him down slowly from a sodadose. Next week I have more from Georgia packed with discussion about the letter G. I know you can’t wait.

The World of Coca-Cola (An Opening Day Post Not About Baseball)

Today is opening day of the Major League Baseball season. Wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. Despite a desire to spend the next 500 to 750 words going on and on about how great the New York Yankees are going to be this year (with one starting pitcher), how the National League should be contracted (forcing the starting pitchers of the Philadelphia Phillies to be absorbed by the Yankees), and how delicious hot dogs are, it is the predictable and unpredictable natures of the game that I really love and why I can’t wait to watch the games.

Instead of writing about baseball, I have decided to show you pictures from my family’s recent spring break vacation trip to Atlanta, Georgia. Wait, wait, don’t click away just yet. Okay, maybe you should.

Nothing goes better with at a hot dog at a baseball stadium than an ice cold Coca-Cola. (I’m seriously not writing about baseball.) When visiting Atlanta, one of the must-see sights is the World of Coca-Cola. While visiting the museum, or interpretive site, or commercial, or I’m not sure really what it is, I found myself reminded of the feeling when visiting a new Major League stadium. I was also reminded of the power of interpretation. Needless to say, the facility itself was amazing, well designed, organized, beautiful, and worth seeing. Though in some ways it left me wanting more (much like a trip last summer to Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.). I did fill that empty feeling with large amounts of Coca-Cola products at the end of the visit, which helped.

I think it is safe to say that architects, designers, planners, and the Coca-Cola Corporation applied Disney-type techniques into the concept. Staging areas were interesting and gave you something to do while you were waiting, which kept you from feeling like you were waiting.

Open areas in the main concourse gave you plenty of room to play a game of baseball (if so desired). In our case, there was room for my children to run and hide while I was taking pictures of exhibits. In Disney fashion, the Coca-Cola Polar Bear mascot was there for photo opportunities. (You will have to go to the IBD Facebook page to see those images.)

I did find that in many areas of the museum that Coca-Cola was working harder than the Phillies trying to find a closing pitcher to build a meaningful connection between visitors and the product. I found this exhibit well designed and produced, but reaching for meaning. The scale and quality was amazing. When it comes down to it, Coke is really a just a soda that we all love. I can relate to that. My daughter still wants to know why the turtle wouldn’t talk to her.

Here are some other highlights:

Reminder of the “green” features of the gold LEED-certified building were found in several places. (I hope this is the last urinal picture to be put on this blog.) The importance of water in the making of Coke is a secondary theme found through the museum.

I love planned photo opportunities that help set the stage for the experience. This one with Mr. Pemberton (the creator of Coca-Cola; no Paul it wasn’t Dr. Pepper) and my son is positioned well for posing with the museum in the background.

The most successful areas were interpretive in nature. The story behind the creation of the soda were fascinating. As you can imagine red was the color of choice.

I found this exhibit really interesting on how the famous Coca-Cola script became the logo over a century ago and is still used today.  The touch screen allow visitors the opportunity to try their hand at mimicking the script. My fingers only draw Helvetica, for some reason.

For some reason, I had a hard time connecting with this exhibit as well.

I have more to share with you from Atlanta and the Coca-Cola Experience, which I will get to next week.

When it comes down to it, you love Coke or you don’t. You love baseball or you don’t. Me forcing it into a post isn’t going to make you love it. The World of Coca-Cola is a tremendous place to visit and is at its best in the areas that just celebrate the power of something that people love and are passionate about, like baseball. Take a 7th inning stretch, I’ll have more next week.