On one level, you couldn’t really blame them. It seemed like such a natural: a chance to do the victory lap and reinforce the Michigan brand.
So they put it up for all to see, there in the Wall Street Journal: Pure Michigan, now RTW.
And really, who can blame them? The Pure Michigan campaign has created a solid brand for the State. Why not use it, then, to piggyback an emotional punch to the political? As brand experts have been pulling out their hair in protest, such a move lacks strategic and economic sense. It is sloppy and it puts Michigan’s second industry, tourism, at risk.
On one hand the cost of the ad, the brag of $144,000 is more a vanity than a pitch and so unlikely to generate much business. Certainly the numbers look that way. By its own accounting, the Pure Michigan has generated a billion in new business. In contrast, what does the direct RTW pitch get its backers? Perhaps not a lot, if we look at Indiana, certainly not anything on the order of the billion dollar revenue. To the extent that such a stunt jeopardizes the larger, successful campaign, it can hardly be called wise.
But are things really in that sort of danger?
In making Right to Work a business calling card it brands the state as surely as the tourism campaign. As with all partisanship, this political edginess gets in the way of the State’s competition for tourist dollars. It’s a conundrum, the more successful the State is in establishing this partisan identity the more it risks alienating a portion of the market. Some will find the right wing turn sufficiently distasteful and so spend those dollars elsewhere. This degrading represents a real business risk.
Now this risk will ease over time, but not entirely. Had MEDC kept the campaign separate, it could negotiate the partisan blowback with continuing with tourism advertising. After all it works with the white sands of Alabama and Texas. And here is the real problem with the RTW/Pure Michigan play: it creates a disincentive with the audience while at the same time robbing the tourism bureau of one of its tools.
Finally, if RTW is the game-changer they claim, that it changes the “product” so to speak, then it would be far better to craft a distinctive advertising message of its own. Here the ad reveals the ambiguity Lansing. Is this really a game changer, per the advocates? Or something like business as usual? How big is the rift? That Lansing and MEDC would turn to the Pure Michigan theme suggests a viewpoint that believes this will not be a move of continuity rather than disruption. It is a view of hope and unwarranted optimism.