R.I. “Cooler & Warmer,” eh?

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New Rhode Island slogan superimposed on image of downtown Providence.

The Ocean State’s new slogan, just announced today, is “Rhode Island: Cooler & Warmer.” What does it mean? Is it about our temperature? Our climate? Is it about the waters of our Narragansett Bay? Is it about how our economy blows hot and cold?

No, it is about hip and friendly. Get it? Cool = hip. Warm = friendly. Rhode Island is hip and friendly.

While cool and warm are synonyms for hip and friendly, the synonymity is not obvious. Unlike the current slogan “Discover Beautiful Rhode Island,” and unlike “I ♥ NY,” “Cooler & Warmer” is not clear or direct. A slogan that must be explained has already failed. Effective slogans build on existing attitudes. No thought associated with Rhode Island arises in the Rhode Island mind, let alone the out-of-state mind, when “Cooler & Warmer” is heard. “Cool & Warm” might have been better. Or for that matter, why not “Coolest & Warmest”? It doesn’t beg questions as “Cooler & Warmer” does. Cooler and warmer than what? Than California? Cooler and warmer than Connecticut? Sorry. Any way you slice it – hot and cold or hip and friendly – it does not compute. It is a contradiction in terms.

The logo that goes with it ought to be simple and straightforward. But no, it is vague and complicated. In the cynical world of product branding, interpretation is the assassin of comprehension.

“The Biggest Little” is clear and direct because Americans all know which state is the nation’s smallest. “Discover Beautiful Rhode Island” may not impress creative types but it is clear, direct and offers an excellent reason to come to Rhode Island. Our beauty is the Ocean State’s chief competitive advantage. It is foolish to abandon it without a superior slogan in hand. “Cooler & Warmer” is not that superior slogan. It screams “Cooler than thou!” The reaction on social media and news website comment boards has been baffled, almost entirely negative. In the wake of 38 Studios, the need was for a clear slogan that avoided opening the floodgates of cynicism. This slogan is sure to inspire the next @38 Stadiums.

To judge by remarks from the governor and her economic development people, the new slogan and the entire rebranding campaign is like a bad Super Bowl commercial. It tries too hard to impress industry chums even as the meaning sails over viewers’ heads. Those viewers who chuckle at the foolishness of such commercials reflect an instinctive superiority of mind over that of the makers of those self-indulgent ads, and this is the basis upon which Rhode Island’s new ad campaign is likely to be judged.

“Cooler & Warmer” would be too cute by half if it were the least bit cute at all. It is not cute, it is confusing. Good advertising copy can be witty and charming without sacrificing clarity. “Cooler & Warmer” sacrifices clarity without a whit of humor.

Governor Raimondo’s rebranding campaign has spent $5 million on bupkis. She is also about to deep-six another clear, direct and clearly successful state symbol – the light blue Ocean State wave that flows gently across our license plates, carrying our brand across the nation. What’s going on here?

Channel 12 has some hilarious mockery of the new slogan on its website.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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14 Responses to R.I. “Cooler & Warmer,” eh?

  1. Pingback: Guv pivots, dumps slogan | Architecture Here and There

  2. Mamadew says:

    How about “Oceans of History” whatever is your pleasure” Perfectly “Stated”, Rhode Island…… or then there is….. Let us “light your fire” (insert Waterfire pic) or you can just “coast” (insert walk on the beach photo). Don’t think any other state has used the term “perfectly stated”. OK, ok, so we are not the perfect state as far as our politicians are concerned but our natural resources, restaurants and other creative offerings are awesome. Ms. Wall sould be let go thank you very much.

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    • Mamadew says:

      Sorry, no way to correct spelling or punctuation mistakes. My bad, got caught up in the statements and did not check before posting.

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  3. Soundslike says:

    It’s pretty effed when your PR itself is a PR nightmare—I mean, hopefully you didn’t plan on keeping the PR a secret, right? You by definition planned on attention and scrutiny?

    Leaving aside for a moment how embarrassingly lame and crummy (let’s be generous and say “ineffectual”) this logo/tagline/etc. is, and thus how worthless as outreach to anyone beyond the state, its ostensible purpose. (If anything, it will get us some mockery as a meme). The fact that it wasn’t a no-brainer to engage the local design community with an open “competition” with some component of public input/voting—free PR in and of itself—is perhaps the most mystifying thing. I mean, at least that results in something locals think represents them, even if the edges get sanded off a bit—nothing could have ended up more milquetoast and yet baffling than this. Plus, with something by a local entrant you’re celebrating localness, instead of “famous Mr. NY Bigshot guy,” exactly the sort of thing that doesn’t go down well here, fairly or not. We do in fact have a lot of real (not “good for someplace small”) talent that would’ve served both the national intended audience and the local apparently unintended audience.

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  4. Michael Tyrrell says:

    Been living in RI for five years now, and this botch tops it.
    While all is not lost, We expected better from the Ocean State.
    (New Downtown Stadium with all its spin-offs? No. Cruise terminal? No.
    Citizens Bank expanding in an urban context? No. Modern street cars
    linking everything? No. Ferry to Newport/Block Island? No, put it in Fall River).
    I thought Connecticut was bad… Thank goodness Boston is just up the road.

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  5. Cliff says:

    I recall one of the reasons given for trashing our likable, well-designed license plate is to make it easier for license plate readers to photograph them.

    As for the failed tourism campaign rollout, we’re getting our money’s worth… in laughs. On the flip side, here’s another sad example of how broken and out of touch RI state government is.

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  6. Having been involved in the creation of logos and taglines, I know it is an arduous process. I have never seen a case where everyone was happy with the result and it is always very easy to criticize it. It helps to remember that this logo is not designed to make Rhode Islanders happy (an impossible chore) but rather to stand out from the crowd. Look at the 49 other state logos (provided at GoLocalProv http://www.golocalprov.com/news/ri-tourism-campaign-in-chaos) and you can see that few catch your eye. Although the tourism campaign certainly has its flaws — the mistakes in the video and website should have been caught prior to unveiling — to pile on with criticism is an all too easy response. And the idea of having the students at RISD create the logo (maybe “for free” as suggested by GOP Representative Doreen Costa) fails to understand that this is a full marketing campaign. Fun as it is to let loose with criticism on social media, maybe each of us could then spend a few minutes thinking of ways each of us can promote the state we call home. In the long run, it might be a better use of our time.

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    • There is much in what you say, Work. It is easy to stand on the sidelines and boo. My post was filled with constructive criticism, but the preponderance of boobirds is not without its utility in suggesting how this tourism campaign has gone off the rails (as I think it has). You can tell which comments are just against anything the state, or government does, but there are very many who tag the logo or the video or the slogan, offering frequently valid reasons why they may prove ineffective even if they don’t offer better alternatives. Those boobirds can be useful, and I hope the state will listen with both ears.

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      • chimaniblog says:

        It may have been an arduous process, but a rigorous process really should have come up with something better than this. My interest is in promoting Rhode Island tourism, not beating up on state officials. I thought the video was good despite the errors, and the website is OK (although seems a work in progress). The slogan and logo, however, are bad to the point of amateurish.

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      • I think the real question is whether a million or even half a million dollars should have been spent on a new logo. I find it hard to imagine one that would truly be worth $1,000,000 when that money could pay for agile, clever social media professionals who would spend their time getting Rhode Island onto the right media for any moment.

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      • Soundslike says:

        Well said, David. This is hardly the typical no-to-everything nattering, at least not just. (If anything, I’ve at least had a laugh that this campaign has brought normally widely divided people together–by giving everyone something to loathe). The outcry by design-savvy types like the people with whom I work is about how just plain piss-poor the work on this “full marketing campaign” is, not denying that (somehow) work went into it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of work? Well. . . Anything decent would’ve had detractors and nit-pickers–but I’ve yet to hear anyone of any stripe really defend the work on even a single merit.

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  7. Lewis Dana says:

    A state that has a history of sending prominent politicians to reside in “Federally-owned gated communities” should think twice about using the word “cooler” in its branding.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    And it cost only $5 million. What ai state!

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  9. It’s bupkis, I tell you! What a perfectly appropriate description….

    Like

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