“If you were to pick an icon representing the essence of the Auburn Creed, you would find Tara Jones.”
Jones didn’t rely on politics to win Miss Auburn. Instead, the College of Business junior from Kennesaw, Ga., proved that marketing, targeting voters -- and a few lessons learned inside Lowder Hall -- can go a long way.
“A lot of people don’t realize that campaigns are straight marketing,” said Jones, who won the title by virtue of a campus-wide election on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
“How effective are gimmicks?” she asked. “Do people really vote on chocolate chip cookies passed out by candidates? If everyone gives out chocolate chip cookies how is that going to help anything?”
No cookies. But there was dancing … and a video that drew thousands of web hits.
Jones, who ran on a platform for clean water for third-world nations, is the feature performer of a spur-of-the-moment Harlem Shake video.
“It was literally the day before (filming) I called a friend and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be weird if we did a Harlem Shake video?’ They were like, ‘yeah.’ Then they called me back and said, ‘no, let’s do it.’” Jones said.
Jones boldly danced alone – then was joined by a host of others – for the camera outside Farmhouse Fraternity.
“It’s an internet phenomenon that hit about two weeks ago,” she said. “I knew that internet phenomenons, if you can catch on quickly, are golden. That one had just caught on.”
Jones, an independent, said she learned a valuable lesson from Butler.
“Dr. Butler asked, ‘Who’s your target audience going to be?’” Jones said. “My target audience was going to be the engineering school, so we put our stuff in front of Shelby (Center) and geared everything toward the engineers. We scheduled our visits based on independents and engineers that don’t vote over Greeks. It was cool to come into it with that perspective.”
Jones’ relationship with engineering students stems from her work with the Innovative Humanitarian Products Organization, an Auburn-based group designed to create innovative products to help those less fortunate. The IHPO’s origin comes from one engineering student’s creation of a water purification system designed to clean systems around the globe. Jones said the purifier has been sent to Guatemala, India, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.
“About one billion people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water,” said Jones, the organization’s Chief Marketing Officer. “It was crazy to look at the photos and see the muddy water that people were drinking, and then reading all the stats that said about 80 percent of all disease in third-world countries exist because they are drinking bad water. All of these problems that a lot of people are trying to solve are originating because they are getting their water from filthy swamps and they’re not walking to the nearest well because the well is too far.”
Partnering with three non-profit agencies, Jones’ campaign team raised more than $7,500 to build wells and send water purifiers to nations in need.
“We gave them (non-profit organizations) options for students to give $5, give $10,” Jones said. “People gave $100s on the concourse. It was incredible. Now people are like, ‘oh, wow, it’s easy for me to get involved in a world issue.”
Already interested in the water issue as a student at North Cobb Christian High in 2010, Jones wasn’t sure what she would do about it on the Plains.
“I thought I’d get a degree and go work, eventually, for a non-profit that deals with the water crisis and long way down the road,” she said. “My sophomore year one night the Lord just hit me with it. I was praying about it one night and I was burdened about this and I wanted to do something about it. I didn’t know what that meant. I was like, ‘God do you want me to start a club, or a non-profit here at Auburn.’? The next day I went to a statistics class and my friend Bryce walked in and he was like, ‘Aren’t you passionate about the water crisis?’ I said, ‘Yeah, why.’ Then he said, ‘Well, my friend Grant, over in the College of Engineering, he made a water purifier and he started a non-profit where they are giving out water all over the world and he needs some new leadership. They are having a meeting today.’ I was like, ‘Wow, a direct answer to a prayer.’”
Jones, who plans to graduate in 2014, isn’t sure which academic road to follow: marketing or accounting.
“I can’t really do both,” she laughed. “They are kind of the opposites in the business school. I think my ultimate dream job would be to do marketing for a non-profit that works with the water crisis.”
She credits professors in each for cultivating her love for each.
“Jeff Jones (accounting professor) … he’s so passionate about accounting that it makes me love it,” Jones said. “He comes into the class every day prepared and ready to go. He cares about his students. You can tell that he’s doing what he loves. Being in his class, it taught me ‘don’t be miserable and don’t do something that you don’t love.’ Pursue what you love, because that’s where you are going to find true joy in your work.
“Dr. Butler really goes above and beyond teaching through slides and power points and taught us real-life lessons through his own stories. He has so many stories because he has been all over this world. He was good at taking principles out of the book and stretching them and analyzing them with us and applying them to real life. He did a great job of laying the ground work for how I think about marketing now. I can tell that after taking his class, going into campaigns, I thought about it in an entirely different perspective.”
For now, Jones is happy to put the taxing weeks of campaigning aside and focus on the future.
“I’m still trying to catch up on sleep,” she said, noting the week as “been a whirlwind.”
“Classes are still going strong. Doing media interviews too. Answering a lot of congratulations emails and texts actually took several hours. The amount of texts I had on my phone for the past two days has been insane. I’ll have to look at the number later. It’s kind of funny, but also comforting to know how many family and friends I have behind me.”