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Rhode Island: Clumsy and Misguided

When Rhode Island launched a new marketing campaign last month to attract tourists and businesses, the state’s leadership thought they had laid the groundwork for success. The famed graphic designer behind the ubiquitous “I Love New York” logo was hired, market research was conducted, and a $5 million budget was allocated.

The campaign, however, sunk faster than a ship that snags one of the massive rocks along Rhode Island’s coast. The governor and her marketing team made errors in the campaign’s conception and execution that doomed “Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer” before it ever had a chance to catch a gust of wind and set sail.

Below are some of the cardinal marketing and public relations traps that ensnared Rhode Island’s image reboot.

Disregard the Audience

The new slogan, “Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer,” was intended to signify that Rhode Island was hipper and friendlier than neighboring New England states, which have a reputation for being stale and unwelcoming to outsiders. While the tagline tested well and shared the simplicity of “I Love New York” and “Virginia is for Lovers,” it did not resonate with audiences in or outside of Rhode Island. “Cooler and Warmer” failed to capture what Rhode Islanders love about their home state or appeal to tourists and businesses. A motto that might seem obvious to someone who has been immersed in the project for months could easily confuse a reader casually flipping through a magazine or scrolling down a website.

Rush the Rollout

The campaign’s flaws were immediately clear but it was too late to be salvaged because the launch was so hasty. A new website, advertising campaign, promotional video, and logo were introduced to the public simultaneously. If the components had been presented gradually piece by piece and tweaked according to audience feedback, the backlash would not have been so merciless and decisive. “Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer” was designed as a package to make a splash, so when elements missed the mark, public reaction was thunderous and devastating. A series of inaccuracies and oversights became a fiasco, rather than a stumble that could be recovered from.

Make Sloppy Mistakes

The promotional video opens, “Imagine a place that feels like home, but holds enough uniqueness that you are never bored. Everything you are looking for is here.” But the advertisement includes footage of a skateboarder outside an iconic opera house in Iceland. The production company called the shots an “honest mistake” and noted that both the skateboarder and cameraman were from Rhode Island, but the damage was done.

Then there was the website, which promoted a restaurant that abandoned Rhode Island for Massachusetts and a chef that is deceased. Careless errors can taint an entire campaign with an air of inauthenticity and create an irresistible target for social media ridicule.

Although talented people came together and much time and money was expended on “Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer,” the campaign did not generate the optimism and excitement state leadership had aimed for. The buzz created sounded more like a fog horn of failure, drawing attention to problems within the state’s government. The governor has vowed to reconfigure the project and engage with Rhode Islanders on how they would like their home state to be represented, a tactic which should have been at the campaign’s core from the beginning.

Let Rhode Island be a lesson to public relations and marketing professionals who are tempted to allow a campaign to grow too big too quickly, neglect the details, and lose sight of the objective. The waves of public opinion will come crashing down and your ship will run ashore.

Keegan Bales is an Account Executive at LEVICK and a contributing author to Tomorrow.

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