Size Doesn't Matter

The state’s newest tourism campaign finds success by going big on small


When the state’s new “Fun-Sized” tourism campaign debuted on social media, the comments could be interpreted as a whole lot of light bulbs going on over the collective heads of Rhode Islanders everywhere. The tagline seemed to have been there all along, hiding under our own noses.

“We have to be us,” says Lara Salamano, chief marketing officer at Rhode Island Commerce Corp. Working with award-winning Providence advertising agency Nail Communications – the firm who, among other things, famously split up candy duo Mike and Ike in a successful campaign in 2012 – and Gnarly Bay, a film and video production team out of Westerly, RI Commerce Corp managed to capture the spirit of the state’s appeal.

Of course Rhode Island is “Fun-Sized.” Why didn’t someone think of this sooner? The state’s small size has long been a source of tongue in cheek pride – think t-shirts that declare “Don’t Mess With Rhode Island Either,” with the shape of the state smack in the heart of a to-scale outline of Texas; or “Rhode Island: 3% Bigger at Low Tide.” Why not embrace that core quirk on a national level?

To be sure, the elephant in the room was 2016’s appropriately maligned “Cooler and Warmer” campaign. The backlash was swift and fierce, with outrage directed at the campaign’s cost, the inclusion of b-roll footage in a promotional video from Massachusetts and of a mysterious skateboarder in Iceland, and the fact that Milton Glaser – famous for the “I Love New York” logo – was tagged to create an off-tone slogan and logo instead of turning to the state’s homegrown crop of art and design talent.

Considering the anger over Cooler and Warmer, this campaign really needed to stick the landing. More than just “being us,” it had to bear the burden of expectations most state tourism campaigns don’t have to deal with.

Earlier this year, the first batch of the Fun-Sized videos made their appearances
online. They lived up to their title – short, high energy, and clearly coming from a place of personal love for all things Rhody. The best part? Not a single Nordic kickflip in sight.

Production on the campaign videos began last summer and is still ongoing. So far 14 videos have been released. Each follows an identical formula: open on a tight shot of a particular attraction, fast zoom out to an aerial shot, the slogan “Fun-Sized” appears, and a six-note jingle plays. The activities cover all seasons and interests, like bird watching on Block Island, bouldering in Lincoln Woods, the music and art scenes in Providence, surfing in Newport, tubing at Yawgoo Valley. “Everyone’s idea of fun is different,” says Salamano. “And there’s no other state so small that you can do so much in such a little amount of time.”

The text treatment and the musical style of the jingle vary depending on what’s being promoted; think a dude ranch font and country western twang for horseback riding in Goddard Park, or heavy metal lettering and riffs for an iron pour at the Steel Yard.

Steel Yard - Providence from Visit Rhode Island on Vimeo.

“We obviously did a lot of prep work,” explains Salamano, who joined Commerce Corp several months after Cooler and Warmer. “Tourism is such an important part of this state.” According to Salamano, the state had 24 million visitors in 2016 and one out of every eight Rhode Islanders works in some field relating directly to the tourism industry. Wisecracks about Cooler and Warmer aside, the real stakes were maintaining Rhode Island’s visibility and appeal to those millions of potential 2018 visitors.

That meant thinking aggressively – and modernly – about how to approach this campaign and how people consume digital content. Research was done to determine the perfect seven-second run time for each of the videos, just long enough to tell a story without overstaying their welcome.

The campaign has targeted states across the Northeast, and cities like DC, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Raleigh, and Denver, with paid ads running on popular websites Trip Advisor, Yankee’s NewEngland.com, Lonely Planet, and Fodor’s among others. The total cost of the campaign has been $1,875,000, which includes $250,000 for the first 18 videos and media buys across web and TV, plus print ads shot by local photographer Jesse Burke through the end of June. When we spoke with Salamano, the campaign had already brought in $800,000 in hotel bookings (that was in late March after a string of successive weekly snow storms, so at least some folks had summer on the brain). Salamano was quick to point out that that’s just a portion of what they’ll spend when you take into account the money those visitors will drop on food and entertainment at local busniesses during their stay.

Another dozen ads are set to be filmed in the coming months. The team plans to shoot the state’s warmer months and, later in the year, some more season-specific attractions. There’s a lot to compete with in New England alone – Maine calls itself Vacationland, for crying out loud – but “Fun-Sized” seems to be telling the rest of the country what locals have known all along: it’s not about how big your state is, it’s what you do in it.