Cooler & Warmer Time Line and the Commerce Corp.’s Promotional Focus


In an agitated interview with WPRI’s Perry Russom, RI Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor refused to narrow down the time line for the failed “Cooler & Warmer” slogan even within a “weeks or months” range.  “I couldn’t say with precision when it was selected,” he claimed.  When pressed: “I’m not going to be able to say.”  That doesn’t sound like a “don’t remember”; it sounds like a “there’s some reason I don’t want to put a date on it.”

Well, maybe Capitol TV can help.  At a January 14 House Study Commission hearing on “Growing Tourism in Rhode Island.”  Representative Blake Filippi (I, New Shoreham, Charleston, Westerly, South Kingstown) asked for an update on the state’s branding effort.

“We have a logo and a tagline,” said Commerce Corporation Chief of Staff Wade Gibson, sitting next to newly hired Chief Marketing Officer Betsy Wall.  Gibson went on to say that they were testing the logo and tagline, preparing to develop new license plates to be released in the summer, and putting together the roll out.  “We just want to make sure that it’s timed with other events that are happening so that we get maximum impact from it.”

Gibson claimed that the regional tourism bureaus were substantially involved in the process of developing the tagline and logo, which began with the start of the fiscal year in July.  The firms chosen for the work started on November 1st.  The Commerce Corp. brought “concepts” to the regional bureaus on December 1.  (Gibson specifically mentioned the idea that Providence is one of the “coolest” cities.)

Next, the graphic designer developed the logo and tagline, which the Commerce Corp. “poll tested” with more than 1,000 people, which Gibson said happened “right before the holidays.”

Three questions arise from this new information:

  •  Betsy Wall was hired just before the holidays, too, at which point the branding effort was nearly complete.  On what grounds did Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo place the job-ending blame for the botched roll-out on her?
  • Gibson’s testimony shows that the Commerce Corp. had a clear and detailed chronological understanding of the brand’s development.  Why is Pryor being coy about that now?
  • Gibson claimed Commerce intended to hold on to the design so that the release would be joined with “other events that are happening.”  What other events occurred last week that led Commerce to pick it for the Cooler & Warmer roll-out?

The only obvious events corresponding with the roll-out were Forbes magazine’s naming of Raimondo as the 38th “greatest leader” in the world and a profile of Raimondo’s husband, Andrew Moffitt, in Glamour magazine as “one half of your new favorite political power couple.”  Given past behavior of the Commerce Corp., promoting Raimondo personally, it’s not inconceivable that Gibson’s quasi-public agency has lost sight of the line between promoting the state of Rhode Island and promoting the woman who happens to hold its top executive office at this time.