NORTH KINGSTOWN—Although Gov. Gina Raimondo has retracted the confusing ‘Cooler Warmer’ slogan and parted ways with Chief Marketing Officer Betsy Wall, the state’s heavily criticized branding campaign is now under the crosshairs of not only the court of public opinion, but many legislators at the State House.
The ‘Cooler Warmer’ logo and slogan was met with much disdain from Rhode Islanders when it was unveiled last month, and the associated website www.visitrhodeisland.com fared little better as residents began discovering numerous inaccuracies and out-of-date information. The promotional video, moreover, contained landscape shots of places in Iceland, further adding to the debacle. Video editing firm IndieWhip apologized for the error and said it would pay back $20,000, but then released a video online mocking the mistake.
Rhode Islanders have since had a big laugh about the blunder, but have also wondered why the governor and state leaders seemingly took so little care to make sure that the Rhode Island public was tapped to inform the campaign, a mistake to which Raimondo has now admitted.
North Kingstown and Exeter Representative Doreen Costa is now leading the charge, filing an Access to Public Records (ARPA) request with Raimondo’s office to better understand how the state misjudged its capability to develop a meaningful slogan and marketing approach.
“After seeing the tourism video and logo that was released yesterday, I was underwhelmed by the work done,” she said. “I also found the amount of money spent on this already-failed project incredulous. “I’ve asked the governor for an itemized budget for this tourism project as well as an itemized list of expenses that have been incurred to date.”
Milton Glaser and Havas PR were both hired to develop the $550,000 logo and slogan. Glaser is most well-known for the ‘I Heart NY’ logo, and Havas PR is a global marketing firm which opened a branch in Providence only to work on the Rhode Island logo. Costa said that the state should not hire outside companies to develop the Rhode Island ‘brand’ ? ?“The inclusion of locations outside of our state in the video and other issues could have been avoided if we hired people who know Rhode Island,” said Costa. “We have many talented people here who could have done a better job than what we received.”
This past October, a House commission was formed to study how the state might coordinate a tourism and marketing campaign. That commission’s chair Rep. Lauren Carson (Dist. 75—Newport) has similarly placed blame for the branding blunder at the feet of Raimondo and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation (RICC), which had been appropriated approximately $5 million overall for the campaign.
“The mismanagement of this effort has jarred Rhode Island as well as members of our commission,” said Carson in a statement Tuesday. “From the start, the commission has been concerned about the branding and design process.”
Carson goes on to state that the commission had been told that ‘the best of the best’ marketing professionals were chosen by the state, and that the campaign ‘would involve Rhode Island stakeholders from the tourism and hospitality community’
“We were unsure about the selection of out-of-state consultants chosen to design the plan,” she said. “We were assured that the branding and marketing plan would be exciting and launched in January 2016, in time to market the state for the critical summer season.”
“We are sorely disappointed that these goals were not achieved.”
Now, Carson said the commission, which has been extended by the House until December, will demand regular updates from the RICC on its progress with a new marketing/branding approach, and expects to have two interim reports filed before its final 2017 report.
“We will measure the impact of the branding and marketing programs and we will make a full inquiry as to how such a traditional marketing exercise and product became such a fiasco,” she said.
RICC Executive Director Stefan Pryor has this week taken responsibility for the branding campaign’s mistakes, but has offered few details at this point as to how the state will specifically proceed towards developing a better product.
“Our administration is focused on getting the branding and marketing campaign on track,” said Pryor before the House Finance Committee on Tuesday. “There has been a great about of good work done on this marketing campaign. We know that good work nonetheless has been contradicted by and on a temporary basis somewhat eclipsed by the mistakes made. We have to fix those mistakes.”
Pryor added that he is ‘pleased’ with the level of public engagement subsequent to the ‘Cooler Warmer’ slogan and logo roll-out.
“We are pleased with the level of energy being devoted to taking the design itself and changing it into personalized, individualized new images, whether for a restaurant or another business, or to represent elements of the state,” he said. “People are embracing, tweaking and having fun with the design, [and] that is positive.”
“We need to capture that positive energy, fix the problems and advance.”