A new campaign promoting Rhode Island as a tourist destination grabbed headlines and social media attention this month for all the wrong reasons. Instead of wowing potential visitors with the state’s leisure options and scenery, nearly every aspect of the campaign has been derided for having missed the mark.
A “We Are Rhode Island” promotional video passed off footage of Iceland as the Ocean State. And instead of promoting in-state businesses, the campaign website highlighted restaurants in nearby Massachusetts. Along with the factual faux pas, the centerpiece of the new campaign, the slogan “Rhode Island: Cooler & Warmer,” was received poorly by the world at large and lambasted across social media.
In a blog post, Newport, Rhode Island-based design shop Lakuna Design fleshed out the general consensus. “‘Cooler & Warmer,’ as an effort to entice, lacks confidence. It translates to: It's nice. It's warmer. It's OK. 'Cool' is either a wink to hip culture—which by its declaration nullifies that impression—or evokes a controlled or disciplined temperament, which is great for crowd control but not really attractive. 'Warm' is a particularly delicate word that can fall into unsavory territory unless its position is more specific. Warm breezes vs. warm beer. Maybe it’s just me...but I went there immediately. Eww, it's warm.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. For a while, it looked as though the campaign was shaping up nicely. Havas PR was tapped as the agency of record, and legendary designer Milton Glaser, of “I Love New York” fame, was brought in to design a new slogan and logo. A third partner, Epic Decade, is headquartered in the state and helped develop the new brand.
But the results fueled only online scorn. The entire campaign cost $5 million and was such a disaster it forced the resignation of the state’s chief marketing officer, Betsy Wall . The governor stepped in to announce that the slogan would be discontinued, though the logo—a white sail border on three sides by different colors—would still be used.
As tragic as the results might be, Rhode Island is not alone in its misfire. Here are some other groups that have been dogged by producing poorly received travel campaigns:
A 2006 campaign by developed by Australia's tourism agency and M&C Saatchi promoting Australia to foreigners ran into censorship trouble in two markets. The ad depicted an idyllic relaxation spot, include shots of full beers, gorgeous beaches and the breathtaking Sydney harbor fireworks show punctuated by the vanilla-in-Australia question: So where the bloody hell are you?
The slogan drew the ire of the U.K. Advertising Standards Authority, which banned the spot due to the inclusion of the word “bloody.” A lobbying effort by Australian tourism officials brokered a settlement where the commercials would run only after 9 p.m. Canada, meanwhile, objected to the implied alcohol consumption showcased in the ads and ordered the shot cut from the ad. An article by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation noted that, “The $180 million campaign generated much publicity around the world but did not generate any major increase in visitor numbers.”
More recently, Egyptian tourism officials stumbled when they released this hashtag in social media in late 2015. The country, which once did a thriving business in ancient world tourism, has seen the number of foreign travelers dwindle amid prolonged political unrest. So while the $66 million tourism campaign was sorely needed, perhaps the creators could have anticipated internet activists hijacking the hashtag and using it to depict the brutal realities of everyday life in the country.
Singapore Tourism Board
This 2014 ad aimed at Filipino tourists proved to be more tone-deaf in a more traditional way. Low production values, a schmaltzy script and stunningly bad vocal dubs combined to create a camp classic.
As the Australian version of Traveller.com put it, “Featuring more cheese than a stuffed-crust pizza, the video entitled 'See where the world is heading' depicts a Filipino couple in Singapore for a romantic getaway as part of their wedding anniversary.
The overacted exclamations of surprise and delight ("oh, look, honey!") emanating from the couple as they skip through Singapore drips with over-sentimentality. But the real sting in the tail comes from the presentation of a jewelry box from her to him over
What's in the box? It was wise he chose to hold onto the box for after dinner, because what was inside may have made him lose the contents of his stomach: a pregnancy test kit displaying a positive result.”
The Singapore Tourism Board quickly pulled the ad from official channels after intense negative reactions on social media, but the video lives on forever thanks to the all-seeing eye of the internet.
The Philippines Department of Tourism
Four years earlier, the Philippines released its own less-than-stellar tourism campaign. The replacement for an older, more successful campaign, the new project titled “Pilipinas Kay Ganda" (Philippines What a Beauty), was eventually abandoned after it was criticized by then president Benigno Aquino.
According to the South African news site Independent Online, “The campaign was only launched last week but it quickly came under fire with critics saying its logo plagiarized the one used in Poland's tourism campaign. They also pointed out the domain name, www.beautifulpilipinas.com, was one letter removed from a pornographic site featuring Filipina women.”
Following the outcry, the campaign was replaced by a different slogan: It’s more fun in the Philippines.
Too close for comfort? The logo for the Philippines tourism campaign and the older logo advertising Polish tourism.