Blowing Hot & Cold

What a few weeks it’s been in Rhode Island.

For those of you who live under a rock, I’m not referring to the two Spring snowstorms that arrived on the heels of 70º temperatures. That’s normal. What really made these past few weeks interesting is the launch of Rhode Island’s Cooler & Warmer campaign. Intended to boost tourism and business in the state, the campaign instead elicited a rabid response of disapproval going viral on social media and becoming a national story in traditional media.

With all the opinions and noise, I think the idiom, “blowing hot and cold” sums it up well. That’s not a Katy Perry reference, by the way. “Blowing hot and cold” is an expression that originated in Aesop’s fable, The Satyr and the Traveller.

The fable tells about a traveller lost deep in the woods on a bitter cold winter night when a Satyr, or woodland god, approaches him. Learning of his predicament, the Satyr takes pity on him and offers him lodging. As the two make their way to the Satyr’s home, the traveller holds his hands up to his mouth and blows on them. The Satyr had never seen this and asked the man what he was doing it for. The traveller explained that his breath warmed his fingers. The Satyr was impressed. Soon, the two are sitting in the Satyr’s home about to enjoy a bowl of soup. As the man brings a steaming spoonful of soup to his mouth, he pauses and blows on it. Noticing this, the Satyr asks what that blowing was for. The man explained that his breath cooled the soup. Upon hearing this, the Satyr stood up and kicked him out. He wanted nothing to do with “a man who can blow hot and cold with the same breath.”

Thinking about Rhode Island’s predicament, I have 2 take-aways from Aesop’s tale. Let’s call them “morals.” The first, be consistentThe second, be mindful of who you trust.

Let me explain what I mean.

Consistency.

Few would argue that Rhode Island struggles with projecting itself consistently. The state has SO much to offer with its history, arts, culture, coastline and food. But when it comes to leveraging its treasures for social and economic benefit, RI can’t seem to get out of her own way. And this recent debacle certainly didn’t help.

At the end of 2014, Rhode Island hired a consulting firm to analyze the state’s historically low tourism spending. The result? The consultant urged Rhode Island to spend $12 million on tourism over the next three years — eight times as much as it had previously — to stimulate an local economy in dire need.

You see, spending tax dollars on promotion is one of the few things that a state government can do that will result in dollars going back into the public coffer and private businesses. Rhode Island’s lack of spending on promotion costs the state as much as $12 million in sales and occupancy taxes, collected from a potential 650,000+ new visitors. Tourists could potentially spend just shy of $300 million — in RI — and could add up to 3,000 more jobs.

Rhode Island, while inconsistent with promotional efforts, is doing one thing right in all of this: spending on promotion. $5 million to be exact. And even if that seems like a lot, it’s not. For perspective, a 30-second ad for the 2016 Super Bowl costs $5 million. For 30 seconds. And how many of us spend our hard earned money on the brands that spent that same $5 million many times over during the big game?

That said, if I signed a new client who had historically neglected their brand for decades and had finally made a commitment to do a better job telling the world how great they are, I’d applaud. They might be novices and they might make mistakes. Technically, that would make them inconsistent. But they’d be far from being unreliable. The difference is subtle, sure. But it’s crucial.

So good job, RI. Spend on.

Trustworthiness.

Last week, I witnessed from a comfortable distance as the new logo and tagline story went viral. I have to admit, I didn’t spend too much time looking at all the alternate logo suggestions or listening to how the program could be done better by a college student. But I got the idea. I heard the haters and self-proclaimed experts who were beyond excited to find a platform for their opinions. They were hard to ignore but easy to disregard. Too often people yelling the judgements loudest do so with little knowledge of the facts.

Truth is, the public’s opinion can be as right or wrong as I am about what that noise is in the front end of my car. But I’d rather trust Paul, my mechanic. Bottom line, regardless of industry, good work costs money and takes time. Those of us in the business of design need to separate truth from noise and understand that a passionate response always has two sides.

On the down side, the hoopla might cause some clients to be over-cautious — less willing to “LEAP”. On the up side, it makes the public more aware of the powerful influence that design can have. It also forces us, who are employed in the profession, to work harder and, ultimately, to produce better work; work that’s backed up by results. That kind of work costs money and takes time.

You know what else takes time? Nurturing a brand. Logos don’t live on a white page. At least not for long. They move into real-life contexts where they live and breathe alongside us. As they do, we infuse meaning into them. So give it a little time, RI. The Cooler & Warmer tagline is already history — and the logo may eventually go as well — but what will continue on is the people of Rhode Island. So let’s have our brand stand for people who are consistent and trustworthy.

Regardless of what it costs.

Dan Stebbings
Partner / Creative Director
Stebbings Partners

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