Region Needs More Than a New Slogan

Editorial 2

When the president of the Oklahoma-based ad agency hired to help the region better promote itself introduced himself and his latest assignment last month, he said this exercise was not just about coming up with a new logo and slogan.

We hope he meant that, because these days, it seems to be all about the slogan and the logo, and far less about the message, which is what this region should be focused on.

That’s because it has a good one — this is an attractive, very affordable area in which to live, work, play, start a business, stage a convention or business meeting. The problem is, not enough people know that.

It is recognition of this fact that might have prompted the Western Mass. Economic Development Council to go about hiring a firm to help market (or rebrand) the area. However, we believe that, unfortunately, this initiative has more to do with the fact that no one really likes the current slogan — ‘Arrive Curious, Leave Inspired’ — (and for good reason) and/or they think it’s time to retire the phrase ‘Pioneer Valley’ (words to that effect were actually in the request for proposals).

This is somewhat flawed thinking because, while the region certainly needs to do a better job of promoting itself, a logo is really only a small part of this equation. And while we’re on the subject, this region can’t retire ‘Pioneer Valley,’ simply because it’s part of the landscape now, and there are probably dozens, if not hundreds, of businesses and agencies that have that phrase in their name.

But let’s get back to the slogan part of this discussion. The prevailing opinion these days is that a state or a region has to have a catchy tagline. This attitude persists, even though just about everyone who couldn’t recite this region’s catchphrase (and that’s probably the vast majority) also couldn’t tell you what the magic marketing words (not the nicknames) are for Boston, Providence, Worcester, Hartford, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio, or San Francisco.

If slogans are so important, why don’t we know what they are?

They’re perceived to be important because everyone does know New York’s — ‘I Love New York’ — and the one commonly used by Las Vegas — ‘What Happens Here, Stays Here.’ So everyone thinks they need one.

The problem here is that hardly anyone visits Gotham or Sin City because of its branding slogan; they go because there’s plenty to do there. Those cities, and many of the others listed above, like San Antonio and San Francisco, don’t need marketing taglines, although you could make the case that they certainly don’t hurt.

Only, they can.

Indeed, cities, regions, and states are still determined to come up with slogans, searching for the next ‘I Love New York,’ but usually they wind up spending a lot of money and coming out with something that leaves people scratching their heads, for one reason — or many.

Such was the case with Rhode Island’s latest attempt, conceived, ironically, in partnership with Milton Glaser, the celebrated designer of the ‘I Love New York’ logo and tagline. A video used in conjunction with the new slogan — ‘Rhode Island: Cooler & Warmer’ — featured images from Reykjavik, Iceland and the Boston area (later called “editing mistakes” by the marketing firm), causing widespread controversy and negative, often cynical national news coverage that eventually forced the chief marketing officer of Rhode Island Commerce to resign, and the ad agency hired to do the work to return money to the state.

Meanwhile, no one really gets, or likes, ‘Cooler & Warmer,’ which is maybe the bigger reason why the Ocean State’s $4.5 million campaign has been called an unqualified disaster by many state officials.

This region can avoid a similar calamity if it focuses first on getting the message right, and then on spending the capital necessary to make sure that message is heard by all those who should be hearing it, rather than coming up with a cool new logo and slogan.

Doing that alone isn’t going to get the job done.

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