Blog & News

Ouch, Rhode Island. Not Cool.

By Rachel Spencer, Director of Business Intelligence

If you’re in the advertising business, you’re cringing right now at the Cooler and Warmer campaign debacle in which the state of Rhode Island has found itself. In case you missed it, the New York Times has it WELL covered.

There are so many elements that went wrong here, it’s hard to know where to begin.  Was it the lack of local creative talent familiar with region, or the use of footage from another continent? Undoubtedly, these are poor choices for a tourism campaign. But from my perspective, I’ll venture to say that the downfall might have started with marketing research.

As Access’ resident marketing researcher I can tout the value of research all day long – and I do. It’s a critical component to the success of any creative campaign. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked at best, or at worse, completely mismanaged. When research is done incorrectly it can lead to disaster and my hunch is that’s what happened in this case.

I have no idea what went on behind the scenes to lead to such backlash. At first glance, it would seem this team had all their ducks in a row. They started with research – bravo! Ten points! But I have to wonder about the methodology and my gut tells me the research stopped short; here’s why:


But we market-tested our slogans!

Great. How, I wonder? The New York Times reported that the shamed slogan received a more than 60 percent favorable rating. That’s a quantitative result and suggests to me that taglines were tested via survey, but stopped short of exploring the reasons behind certain preferences.

Surveys are a great research tool, when used correctly. But for a campaign like this, it’s more important to know why a slogan performed well than to count how many people liked it. 

I would hope that these taglines were focus group tested to explore whether the image pairing was right, what might have made a tagline stronger and whether or not there was significant confusion to address. Focus groups would have allowed any tagline options to be discussed in broader context and possibly helped to anticipate potential backlash and fix the problem before going public.

This is not to say there isn’t value in a survey that can validate focus group findings, but it shouldn’t have been the only tool in the toolbox.

Failure to engage

By its own admittance, the governor’s office has stated that it did not get stakeholder engagement and buy-in. Research 101. Don’t forget about those closest to you.

We have a very robust discovery process at Access and it ALWAYS begins internally. If you don’t bring your own people on board early and regularly engage with them, you’re missing valuable input that can help define and refine your message before taking it to an external audience that does not have the benefit of insider knowledge.

Skipping this step will give you a headache in the future. In this case, some in-depth interviews with state employees, county officials, boards of supervisors and other people with key knowledge about what makes Rhode Island great could have better informed the research process to make sure the right questions were being asked, and the right methods were being used to obtain the best data possible.

Now, I’m well aware that social media takes on a life of its own and there were a number of other factors at play here. I can’t say with any confidence that they didn’t do everything by the book with regard to research.

It just makes me wonder…

Topics: Research and Insights