Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo deep-sixed her new state slogan just days after its rollout. “It is unacceptable how many mistakes were made in this rollout.” She deserves credit for her response. It shows rare courage. Chief executives never admit error, whether they are heads of companies, heads of states or heads of state. Good on you, Gina!
But she has not gone far enough. Her response, which retains the equally confusing logo, is the well-known limited hangout route pursued by Nixon during Watergate. Get rid of the logo, too. (And while you’re at it, don’t get rid of the wave on our Ocean State license plates.)
The governor should embrace the slogan she rejected – “Discover Beautiful Rhode Island” – and improve it by shortening it to “Beautiful Rhode Island.” That is a statement of fact and a very good reason to visit and live in Rhode Island. ‘Nuff said.
A slogan that has to be explained has already failed. “Rhode Island: Cooler & Warmer” furrowed a record number of brows here – and would have furrowed many more in other states, where its meaning is necessarily even more vague. It will take a long time to get “Rhode Iceland” out of our minds. The number of the dearly departed still cooking at restaurants that have also departed, except from the tourist website, is unacceptably high.
So yes, there were a lot of errors in the rollout. The number may indeed be inexcusable and worth somebody losing their job. But Raimondo should acquaint herself with the reason for the failure of this campaign. The rollout errors were a byproduct of a sloppiness that is intellectual, not bureaucratic. This mental sloppiness is pervasive around the nation, not just here. It a flaw in our idea of “the creative economy” but is not limited to that.
Perhaps this error in thought may be summed up by the phrase too cute by half. Workers in the groves of creativity have for decades increasingly directed their attention at fellow creatives rather than at the market of people who find good ideas useful – ideas not just for state tourism slogans but for almost everything else: like a bad Super Bowl commercial that tries to out-genius its competitors, while the product being advertised is ignored.
Look at computers, look at cars, look at buildings. New ones offer gadgets that nobody ever associated with these products before. An example would be back-up television in cars. It is hard to decipher, makes driving more not less complicated, undermines the intuitive feel for driving that is more acute than any computer aid could be, and might leave drivers in the lurch if it breaks down or malfunctions. Similar examples are common to computers, buildings and most other products, even your lowly toothbrush!
It is the desire for novelty above all. Eventually, latching your product to some feature that completely outstrips the competition narrows down the options for innovation. Left in the toolbox are mainly the silly, the absurd and the ridiculous, features that add nothing to the utility of the product but rely on the spin of advertising copy. For an ad man to sell us what we don’t need is old hat (“Mad Man”). Yet, after more than half a century the pitch has reached its level of incompetence – it has Peter Principled out.
Maybe that last line is too cute by half, but it does encapsulate the problems of American industry today, which just happen to have been on display in Rhode Island’s tourism and and economic development bureaucracies.
Left gagging in the dust of our nation’s will to novelty are traditional notions of product improvement – in the arts and in architecture as well as in commerce. These long enriched America and the lives of its citizens by focusing creative attention on how to add real value to goods and services. The old way of being creative was not by adding unneeded features but by slowly improving existing features, little by little, to increase their usefulness to buyers in the competitive marketplace. (Car tires are a good example.)
The exaltation of extreme novelty is sloppy thinking that misunderstands genuine creativity. It has added far too much complexity to products, to the economy, to the public discourse (which includes advertising as well as politics), and to the lives of citizens and consumers. This complexity facilitates the snookering of the 99 percent by the 1 percent, who are laughing all the way to the bank. (An argument can be made that this sloppy thinking is not really sloppy at all.)
In its effort to rebrand itself, Rhode Island and its “creative capital” have been tripped up by this deplorable trend. Governor Raimondo is right to reconsider, but she needs also to rethink.
(Thanks to Peter Van Erp for starting a website devoted to collecting the errors in the Visit Rhode Island website.)
(To see Automatic Napkin in action, click YouTube video.)