Everyone is a marketing expert. It is frankly one of the worst things about working in my industry.
Not to sound pretentious, but great advertising is art. Only harder.
Art is easy. You just need to make people feel something.
Advertising is hard. You need to make people feel something and then do something.
And rarely is advertising put under a greater microscope than when a state uses tax payer dollars to pay for a tourism campaign.
Our little state of Rhode Island ended years of virtual invisibility by finding the money to finally do a reasonably aggressive campaign to attract visitors and businesses.
And I am thrilled about that.
My firm pitched for the business and lost. To be honest, we weren’t totally heartbroken. We knew that the process of dealing with a complicated government committee might be difficult. But more than that we knew the public scrutiny would be intense and that even if a truly brilliant piece of communication made it through that process there would be loud, vicious outrage.
So I’ve watched with great empathy as Governor Raimondo unveiled the first elements of the campaign and my social media world exploded with vitriol.
I am not going to indulge in an armchair critique. I’ll just say that the work I’ve seen so far was better than I expected to emerge from a government committee—organizations rarely known for creating inspiring art.
But I have been put off by the vitriol and often infantile level of debate.
- The tagline is stupid! To be honest, I am not a fan of “Cooler & Warmer”. But I know that a tagline doesn’t live in a vacuum. Its ultimate worth is determined by the meaning that you imbue it with as you surround it with messaging.
- The logo cost $5 million! No it didn’t. That is the budget for the entire year which includes a giant laundry list of tactics, media and services. And frankly a lot of smart people would say that isn’t nearly enough to make a big splash.
- Why didn’t we hire local! Does anyone think that if they had hired a Rhode Island firm there wouldn’t be equally angry screams of cronyism? Besides, as a taxpayer, much as I’d like to spend our money locally, I’d rather spend it smart. And I believe the folks they hired are competent, respected professionals.
- Rhode Iceland! Yes, there was a two second clip in the launch video that wasn’t shot in Rhode Island. That was a mistake. A dumb mistake given the scrutiny they knew they’d be under. But this is a classic example of “gotcha” mentality that I deplore. We love pulverizing people who make mistakes. Because you know none of us ever have.
Obviously it shouldn’t have happened. But what is the actual, tangible harm? It was on-line for a few hours. They took it down and fixed it (at no cost as I understand). We didn’t run it on the Super Bowl. Did some family in New York cancel their vacation in Narragansett over it?
- The web site is a disaster! No, actually the web site is pretty solid. The design is nice, the user interface is good, they manage to make a large amount of content navigable, etc. Yes, there has been some fury that in that mountain of content there were some things that were wrong—this restaurant is closed or that festival was left out, etc. But ironically in a prominent editorial that called all this out there were two typos—that were fixed. Just like these mistakes will be fixed.
Look, I’ve got no dog in this fight. All I really want after the $5,000,000 is spent is to see that the state has shown a return of at least $5,000,001. Because every tax dollar a tourist pays is a tax dollar a Rhode Islander won’t pay.
But one thing I do know is that the worst possible outcome is that the debate gets so vicious and destructive and the well is so poisoned that we retreat from the essential task of marketing our great little state.
So I guess all I’m saying is before we all rush to pour gasoline on the fire, it might be worth checking to see if it’s our own house that we’re burning down.
Alec Beckett is a creative partner at Nail Communications, a Providence-based marketing and advertising agency.