Is Rhode Island 'All That'?

Ernie Schenck, award-winning ad guy and lifelong Rhode Islander, has suffered through a series of what he sees as head-scratching choices in creating tourist campaigns for the Ocean State.

He doesn’t get why the powers that be don’t use the massive local ad talent to make something knowing and distinctive.

For example, there was the embarrassment stirred up by a 2016 campaign with the tag line “Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer.” The words framed an abstracted sail, and the brightly colored mark was designed by Milton Glaser himself, the genius designer behind the iconic “I Heart New York” logo.

But one rule in being “cool,” I assume, is that you don’t announce it directly. The “warmer” was supposed to imply that this state was friendlier and warmer than its New England neighbors to the north. But that’s a big inference, and a bit of a diss.(What did New Hampshire ever do to you, Rhode Island?)



“Cooler and warmer” left viewers confused and spawned parodies along the lines of “Dumb and Dumber.” It did not help that the TV ads, created by Havas to show all the fun things to do in the state, included a scene shot in Iceland. To add to the gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight package, one of the restaurants shown on the web site turned out to be in Massachusetts.

Never a good sign, the state’s CMO resigned days after the multimillion-dollar campaign was released.

There have been at least two more campaigns in the interim that haven’t stuck. So the timing for this latest seems urgent. COVID hit Rhode Island hard, and tourism revenue is vitally important to all states’ coffers.

Schenck posted the latest Rhode Island campaign, featuring the tagline “All That" -- introduced by Florida-based Zimmerman Advertising last week -- on his social media to see what everybody thought. He said he would withhold his opinion.

Commenters were not amused. More like underwhelmed.

About that tagline: “All That” is a contemporary phrase that seems infused with a little sarcasm, like “she thinks she’s all that.” Is a state all that?

It’s meant to be hip but earnest, a deadly combination.

And yes, the series of ads (there are six) is visually generic.

Did you know that you could go to Rhode Island to find a flock of Lululemon women doing outdoor yoga in a park?  I love that in a state. There’s ice cream! And a kayak!

One bit of credit and newness, however, is due for how diverse the ads are, both in casting and for one spot in its music -- a driving bounce beat. It’s Big Freedia (from New Orleans) re-jigging the song "Pipe That" to a more family-type version of "Like That." It’s very quick and works well with the edit.

The other spots use more classical music. One is devoted to food: "All Cuisine, All People, All That.”  Another is targeted to the LGBTQ+ community, although it’s so low-key that the only thing I noticed was the Pride flag. “All Lifestyles, All That” is the final super.

So back to Schenck. What did he think of the campaign? “We’ve got personality up the wazoo here, and great little stories and secrets. It’s an odd quirky little piece of land. I’d want something that speaks to the charm of this particular state,” he told me.

And there’s no insight in these ads, he said, only a blur of too much of what you can get in a bunch of other places. “I understand that people want it to be something for everybody," he said. “But I’d rather be everything to somebody.”

1 comment about "Is Rhode Island 'All That'?".
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  1. George Parker from Parker Consultants, February 26, 2024 at 3:13 p.m.

    Loved the bit... Schenck posted the latest Rhode Island campaign, featuring the tagline “All That" -- introduced by Florida-based Zimmerman Advertising last week. So much for encouraging local talent.

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