PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island taxpayers spent $550,000 to create the new statewide tourism brand, “Cooler & Warmer,” which was greeted with a storm of mockery on social media after its introduction Monday.
Milton Glaser, the 86-year-old creator of the iconic “I Heart NY” logo, and his team were “the principal designers of the brand,” according to Marian Salzman, CEO of Havas PR North America, one of the three firms hired by the R.I. Commerce Corporation to carry out the newly launched $4.5-million statewide tourism campaign and the agency of record for it.
Glaser’s team did not work alone, however. Salzman said he received “considerable assistance” from Epic Decade, a Rhode Island design firm founded by RISD graduate Seth Goldenberg. Salzman’s own firm, Havas, “was also instrumental in the branding process as part of its broader contract,” she said in a statement. Havas opened a Providence office in December.
Salzman said the three firms – Glaser, Epic Decade and Havas – did not apply to work together on the Rhode Island campaign as a team, “but they have worked together brilliantly in creating a data-driven campaign that focuses on capturing and telling Rhode Island’s unique story.”
Salzman also argued “Cooler & Warmer” had gone through extensive testing.
“The state worked with Market Probe International to test designs and statements in order to understand what resonated with whom,” she said. “Market Probe International surveyed 1,886 people including Rhode Islanders, residents of neighboring states, business travelers and leisure travelers.”
A full breakdown of how the $4.5 million tourism budget will be spent was not immediately available. Salzman said about $875,000 to $900,000 would go toward paid advertising, but that plus the cost of developing the slogan would still leave roughly $3 million to account for.
The local criticism of the new branding campaign, which was introduced Monday night at a Commerce Corporation board meeting, grew exponentially on Tuesday after it emerged that a related promotional video about the state actually included footage of Iceland.
Commerce pinned the blame for the video snafu on IndieWhip, a Providence-based company that it hired to edit the video, which quickly posted an apology on its website and said it would fix the video at no additional charge to the state.
The promo video wasn’t the only aspect of the effort drawing criticism, however. Critics said VisitRhodeIsland.com, the new website introduced as part of the tourism campaign, highlights out-of-state restaurants, mislabels private golf courses as public ones and includes questionable statistics.
The creation of a multimillion-dollar statewide Rhode Island tourism campaign has been a priority for Gov. Gina Raimondo since she was a candidate for governor in 2014, and is something economic-development experts have repeatedly argued the state should consider.
The General Assembly approved granting $4.5 million to the Commerce Corporation to carry out the statewide campaign last June, and the following month the agency issued a request for proposals (RFP) seeking companies to bid on the initiative, described as a “Rhode Island Tourism and Business Attraction Branding Campaign.”
Among those who tried to help Raimondo drum up interest in the RFP was Bob Jeffrey, a Rhode Islander who was formerly global CEO of the big ad agency JWT. Havas hired one of Jeffrey’s relatives to work in its Providence office after winning the contract, the company confirmed in January.
“The account is a small one by big-agency standards – an annual budget of $5 million – and surely there are sexier tourism opportunities out there, in warmer climates,” Adweek wrote in July. “But Jeffrey is a native son who helped get new Gov. Gina Raimondo elected, and as he winds down as non-executive chairman of JWT, he’s tackling some pet projects.”
The trade magazine added: “Rhode Island has champagne dreams and a beer budget.”
The state eventually received 51 proposals in response to the RFP, with 39 from individual agencies and 12 from teams of agencies. Commerce Corporation officials said last September they “conducted a thorough review” before choosing Havas, Epic Decade and Milton Glaser.
Chris O’Leary, a Rhode Island native who now works in marketing in New York City, reviewed the RFP on Wednesday and criticized it as “undetailed” and lacking in “measurable goals.”
Criticism also came from state Rep. Thomas Winfield, D-Smithfield:
Asked how much other states spend on their statewide tourism campaigns, Salzman cited 2013-14 data that put New York’s budget at $16 million, Connecticut’s at $13 million, New Hampshire’s at $7 million and Vermont’s at $3 million.