R.I. pitched as ‘Fun-Sized’

“Marketing is not a logo, it is not a brand,” said R.I. Commerce Corp. Chief Marketing Officer Lara Salamano, discussing the agency’s decidedly low-key approach to rolling out its newest marketing campaign.

Instead, she says, it’s a 12-month effort in the marketing trenches trying to sell the state to potential visitors.

So, after a disastrous launch of the much-hyped 2016 “Rhode Island: Cooler & Warmer” marketing campaign that led to the resignation of her predecessor, Salamano decided against a formal public rollout of the much-anticipated follow-up marketing plan.

Commerce RI quietly rolled out a new website in October and a digital ad campaign in November characterizing Rhode Island as “Fun-Sized” that will be followed up by some television advertising in targeted markets, she said.

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There was never a plan “to do a big rollout or launch,” she insisted of the new marketing plan, which will pursue piecemeal campaigns focused on local events and regions, rather than a broadly themed sales pitch to woo visitors.

“We will never do another tagline or motto,” she said, referring to the public backlash that followed the quickly abandoned “Cooler & Warmer” slogan.

While there was no formal public relations launch of the new plan, she said it was discussed at some public meetings and with the state’s regional tourism groups.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson, D-Newport, is chairwoman of a House Tourism Study Commission. She has been critical in the past of what she said was Commerce’s limited reporting to the panel on its tourism spending and activities.

But Carson told PBN the panel was made aware of the website relaunch and the November “Fun-Sized” advertising campaign. She added she was “fine” with Salamano and her team not formally disclosing the campaign to the public.

“I yielded to [Salamano] on that … [and] took their judgment,” she said.

Commerce board member Karl Wadensten said he felt “lukewarm” about the decision not to publicize the new campaign.

A tourism-marketing update was given during a November Commerce board meeting, but Wadensten, CEO of Richmond’s Vibco Vibrators, acknowledged he “did not remember anything” about the new campaign from the presentation.

Calling the decision to pursue smaller, targeted marketing campaigns “tragic,” he added he is unsure how the “Fun-Sized” marketing pitch fits Rhode Island.

“What does that [phrase] have to do with Rhode Island and how does this all tie together?” he asked. He said lots of other states have taglines that provide an “emotional connection” with visitors and wonders, why not Rhode Island.

Jessica K. Willi, director of the Block Island Tourism Council, said there was a “conscious decision” by Commerce not to launch the new campaign publicly.

After the flop of Cooler & Warmer, she said, “people are too ready to criticize.”