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Rhode Island marketing official resigns over video

AP, PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island

The Harpa concert hall is lit up at night in Reykjavik on Dec. 1, 2011.

Photo: AP

The US state’s top marketing official, who oversaw the disastrous roll-out of a tourism campaign that included a video mistakenly featuring a scene from Iceland, resigned on Friday.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said she accepted Rhode Island chief marketing officer Betsy Wall’s resignation and added that the state would drop part of a new logo, the tagline “Cooler & Warmer.” The tagline was designed by Milton Glaser, creator of the iconic “I Love NY” logo, but it left many people scratching their heads.

Raimondo, a Democrat, said it was unacceptable how many mistakes were made in the tourism campaign roll-out and people need to be held accountable.

“As I dug into it a little bit and realized just how poor of a job was done, I got pretty mad myself,” she said. “These were sloppy, just unacceptable mistakes.”

The video was part of a US$5 million integrated campaign to attract tourism and business.

The video, which briefly showed a skateboarder in front of the Harpa concert hall in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, was mocked on social media and made international news. Embarrassed state tourism officials quickly yanked it off YouTube on Tuesday.

The Iceland mistake was one of several controversies that dominated discussion in Rhode Island since the tourism campaign rolled out on Monday. The scrutiny of the video led to the discovery of numerous errors and outdated material on a newly redesigned tourism Web site that said Rhode Island is home to 20 percent of the nation’s historic landmarks — instead of less than 2 percent.

Raimondo said the state was getting back US$120,000 spent on the campaign: US$100,000 for work by a marketing firm that has coordinated the effort and US$20,000 for the cost of the video by a subcontractor.

Many residents also were unhappy about the new state logo and the “Cooler & Warmer” motto.

Raimondo said that the motto would be dropped because it “seems to not ring true for the people of Rhode Island.”

However, she defended Glaser’s visual design and praised how Rhode Island residents have been adapting the sail-shaped logo with their own interpretations, many poking fun at the campaign or making earnest nods to favorite local places or products.

Raimondo had picked Wall a little more than three months ago to lead the campaign.

Wall lives in Massachusetts and led its tourism bureau until last year. She made an embarrassing admission during an interview with WPRO-AM during the week when she acknowledged she was unfamiliar with Gaspee Days, a popular local festival.

Wall earlier this week said she took primary responsibility for the roll out mistakes.

“These are small elements of a large marketing program,” she said. “I know it is creating a lot of laughs and emotion, but this is a two-second error. This was not an attempt to deceive people or embellish. This was a mistake.”

The video editing company took responsibility for the Iceland mix-up. The state’s economic development agency, the Rhode Island Commerce, said it shared the blame as it hired the vendor.

Two of Raimondo’s communications officials said they noticed an unfamiliar scene in the video before the roll out, but were assured all scenes were filmed in Rhode Island.

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