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Guest MINDSETTER™ Mitchell: RI’s Marketing Program, or “I’ve Bitten My Tongue for the Last Time”

Sunday, April 17, 2016


As a 20 year veteran Marketing Communications Agency Partner and Creative Director, I’ve overseen the branding of dozens of companies.  

Most of our clients were out of Rhode Island, but two local clients of note have used our work for the last decade: Rhode Island PBS carries our branding and Rumford Pet Center is still using our jingle.

So, while the now infamous botched up roll-out of the state’s tourism campaign shows how disorganized those in charge were, the plan going forward indicates how clueless they still are.

The fact that the Administration is nixing the slogan, or for that matter any slogan at all, while staying with the new “sail” logo, boggles the mind.

The building blocks of ANY multi-faceted communications program is a strategic, overarching theme, logo and slogan. They are the strategic shorthand by which the campaign’s underlying message(s) can be consistently told, readily identified and remembered. Their efficiency and impact allows for faster communication, higher recognition and more bang for the buck as online, print or direct media is purchased. Without them the value of media purchased is woefully diminished.

First, let’s look at the Logo that we’re (ill-advisedly) keeping. Yes, we know its creator, Milton Glaser created “I Love New York”, but a look at his work indicates, to me at least, that the sail logo probably did not come from the hand of the Maestro.  And the unused logos presented recently are farther removed from the quality of Glaser’s work which can be viewed on www.miltonglaser.com.  One clue could be that in an interview, Glaser himself complained that governor’s team had failed to lay the groundwork for the end product and provide context for it.

Second, as the branding process moves from science to art, there ARE rules: look at the display of state logos on GoLocalProv and you'll see in all cases the name of the state takes up most of the graphic space, because the state name IS the product. (And, by the way 80% of the logos have a slogan).

Looking at the Sail logo itself, the state name takes up about 10% of the available logo space.  We're all used to seeing this logo as a large graphic in an internet article, but once it takes its rightful place and size top left or lower right of a digital or printed page, the state name will be relegated to 4 point type (I can't believe Glaser didn’t realize that). To borrow a phrase from the group America, the existing logo helps us be “A State with no Name.”

Now for the "Sail" itself.  Without looking at any of the pre or post design research data, as a Rhode Islander I can confidently say that the “essence" of Rhode Island is no more a sail, than it is a quahog or lobster or anchor.  Those images are one step removed.

We're about the Ocean and the bay and coastline it has blessed us with. Without it Rhode Island is not Rhode Island. Narragansett Bay attracted Roger Williams, The Capital is at the head of the Bay, our Bay and coastline makes our geography unique in the country, and has given us the bounty of its food, lifestyle, restaurants, oceanography, 5 star restaurants and resorts. And yes, a world class sailing, yachting and boat building hub. Good God, the Ocean is the very soul of the state. To ignore it, or not get it is unconscionable.

Last weekend saw interviews with Seth Goldenberg, the interim program director, touting how we’ll have local meetings seeking input on the details of what makes RI marketable by entertaining alternate slogans that would lead to content for articles, blogs, brochures, events, online reviews and other content.  Good move. But steak without the sizzle is still just meat.

While those in charge of the state’s marketing seem to be more comfortable with numbers, data and theoretical concepts and have little background, understanding or regard for the fundamentals of branding or the creative process, they need to get their heads out of the clouds and pay attention to basics.

My unsolicited and surely unwanted advice to them would be to swallow your pride, re-tool as you said you would, and launch a new coordinated position based, brand campaign.

And oh yes, be very careful about abdicating control of the campaign by opening it up to citizens, schools, contests etc. The results could be more problematic than you think.

The reason why these campaigns are expensive is because the good ones are really difficult, deliberated and technically complex. Take input from everyone, but leave execution to the professionals. If you don’t believe it look at Apple, Nike, Coca Cola, Volvo, Yada yada yada.

Make us proud of the state’s new campaign and its leadership.
Bill Mitchell

Bill Mitchell has 35+ years in strategic planning and marketing. His experience spans from the Advertising department at Taco, Inc. in Cranston, to Corporate Communications for the St. Regis Paper Company in Manhattan, to V.P. of Marketing & Sales at BIF (Builders Iron Foundry) in West Warwick and as Partner and ultimately Creative Director for 20 years at Stauch, Vetromile & Mitchell now known as SVM.  His creative involvement in programs have been recognized through awards such as Hatch, Clio and Telly.

Retired since 2004, Bill continues to consult with clients deemed fun and interesting and keeps his creative chops honed by writing Parody Songs about Rhode Island (the most infamous being “I Know a Guy”) which can be viewed at http://www.BillyMitchellSongs.com (Hey, cut some slack, he’s retired).


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