Updated: Jan 3, 2020
Written by: Megan McDowell
Rhode Island was faced with a rebranding nightmare as they failed to build resident buy-in to all processes of the state's new rebrand.
I Love New York
In a recent article for the New York Times, Katherine Q. Seelye writes about Rhode Island’s failed attempt at re-branding, in an article entitled, A New Rhode Island Slogan Encounters Social Media’s Wrath. The mission was straightforward and simple, create a new logo and slogan to cast Rhode Island in a new light, attract tourism and increase business. The state had a budget of 5 million dollars set aside for the marketing campaign. They hired Milton Glaser, the graphic artist and creator of the iconic “I Love New York” logo. Within a week of the launch, the head CMO resigned and a full-fledged mockery of the State’s attempt to re-brand was in full swing. So what could they have done differently? Did they need more money? We believe the prime failure in the re-branding process was a failure to engage.
First, the slogan failed to connect and opened itself to widespread mockery. The slogan chosen was “Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer.” This slogan was confusing to most and opened itself up to all sorts of twitter jokes. These jokes included “Dumb and Dumber.” Others included “Forget #coolerandwarmer. When we legalize pot, Rhode Island will be ‘Higher and Lower.’”
Stock Photo Nightmare
Secondly, Seelye goes on to write how the problem with the slogan was compounded by the marketing materials. The marketing materials were intended to highlight some of the interesting things to do in Rhode Island; the problem was that they were not all from Rhode Island. There was one scene shot in Iceland. The website included restaurants in Massachusetts.
Seelye writes that within days of the media backlash, the state’s chief marketing officer resigned. The governor, Gina M. Raimondo went into crisis management mode which seemed to make things worse. She stated that they would be scrapping the slogan but keeping the logo. What was worse, she was encouraging businesses to “make it their own” by putting their own logos in the white space. This first term democrat then began to be discussed on the local radio station, including criticisms of her favoring out-of-staters whether in New York or Davos, a reference to Milton Glaser, the graphic artist who they had hired.
Milton Glaser stated in an interview, that he felt like they were holding it against him for not being from Rhode Island. Seelye goes on to state that Glaser’s biggest complaint in the whole incident was that the governor’s team failed to prepare the public for the end product and the context that it was meant to fit in. This failure to do so, led people to become “crazed by the idea that they didn’t get it,” Glaser went on to say that “If you rolled it out over weeks, you could have made a case for it. But in the absence of a real presentation, and the presence of so many mistakes, the whole thing became enshrouded in negativity. The social media thing is a killer.” The logo and slogan had a context behind it, and it wasn’t as simple as the I Love New York slogan that he had become known for. Glasser explained that the white sail logo was to give a sense of pleasure, sailing, and optimism while the slogan was meant to state that Rhode Island was interested in cool things and that they were warmer than the cold stereotype of New England.
The governor has acknowledged some blunders, when she said, “We didn’t do nearly enough public engagement before rolling out the campaign.” Nor did they get “stakeholder engagement and buy-in” in advance. The problem wasn’t money, but rather a lack of engagement with the community which would have gone beyond the market research on favored taglines. For a small portion of the budget, Rhode Island could have purchased online community software and began doing qualitative research through their online community to get feedback and garner buy-in.
Using MROC software early on could have allowed citizens involved in the community to take part in the re-branding, including input on slogans and logos, as well as testing. Allowing the public to take part in providing feedback and being a part of the process would have helped identify red flags that could have been avoided, providing a sense of ownership with the final product, as well as providing context for the final roll-out.
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