Rooting around online in search of a website for the Metamorphosis dance troupe I saw in Pawtucket on Saturday afternoon, I came across what seems to me a perfect example of how not to “brand” Rhode Island. The pitch is called “Whatever you do … Rhode Island.”
Atom Media Group, of West Warwick, presents its proposal to state officials seeking a firm to undertake a rebranding effort as “a radical departure from typical campaigns.” However, a campaign that relies on vagueness is neither new nor, in all likelihood, effective.
Kate Bramson, in her July 7 Providence Journal article, “R.I. pursuing the perfect pitch for new tourism campaign,” cites “Pure Michigan” as one of state officials’ ideal state brands. It strikes me as equally vague and bland, but at least “pure” is a word with high positives. “Whatever you do” seems both difficult to understand and eminently forgettable.
Yes, I know, the idea is that people will read into the slogan a meaning that picks up on what they already think about Rhode Island. If so, that only shows how unnecessary that slogan is. It may show that a rebranding campaign is unneeded. If the name of the state already conjures specific ideas that are swimming around in people’s minds, the state should identify those ideas and then base a rebranding campaign on them. But that might be difficult to do with enough specificity to be useful in developing a brand.
My own guess is that Rhode Island’s current slogan, “Discover Beautiful Rhode Island,” is a more effective brand than any P.R. firm is likely to invent. Except that I’d slice off the first word. Make it “Beautiful Rhode Island.” That would make the slogan an assertion rather than a call for action. It is simpler, and conveys a self-evident truth. For Rhode Island’s natural and civic beauty are unimpeachable, at least much more so than most states.
Rhode Island can then get on with the job of helping the state live up to its brand. That means keeping up the beauty of its beaches and other natural attractions, and preserving its beautiful architectural heritage.
Since both primarily require maintaining a generally admirable status quo, effort should be directed at improving that status quo. The state should make sure that new buildings, bridges, parks and other proposed structures strengthen rather than weaken the state’s already highly competitive environment of traditional architectural beauty.
Only a slogan that reinforces the state’s existing reputation will strengthen its brand. And only then can Rhode Island’s brand aspire to benefit from a slogan to attract tourists as effectively as “I ♥ New York” attracted tourists to the Empire State. Meanwhile, state officials should concentrate on improving its business climate, which contributes to the negative brand that the state wants to get rid of, even though it is free.
Until then, the state’s desire to promote Rhode Island as a “place to visit, live, work, and start a business,” as Atom Media expresses it in its campaign, is likely to run up against hardened attitudes that no new slogan or rebranding campaign can be expected to surmount.
By the way, Governor Raimondo recently canceled her predecessor’s clubfooted plan to eliminate the wave from the Rhode Island license plate. The wave is a successful logo. Hopefully, the governor will decide to continue it rather than squandering more money on the unlikely bet that a better logo can be invented by another P.R. firm.
Stefan Pryor, the state’s first secretary of commerce who is in charge of the rebranding campaign, says some 40 firms, in and out of state, are vying for the job. A winner is to be announced in October.