This year isn’t two weeks old and we’ve got a nominee for Top PR Fails of 2013.
The economic development team in Lansing dilutes its successful Pure Michigan tourism message by slapping it on a politically charged ad.
“Michigan is the newest Right-to-Work state,” says a full-page Wall Street Journal ad Jan 9, promoting “a new day for business in Michigan.” In bounds so far.
But at the bottom is a familiar two-word logo with a bright green M: Pure Michigan.
There’s an apt phrase for that. It’s known as stepping on the message, diluting the brand, ripping up the playbook or sabotaging the strategy. (Yes, we’re fond of jargon in PR.)
You can bet no one from the tourism branch of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation or its ad agency (the Birmingham office of McCann Erickson) suggested using their popular slogan in a business attraction pitch that leads with a controversial anti-union law. That’s clearly not part of the marketing communication plan that features Jeff Daniels, stunning scenery and lyrical scripts.
And anyone who objected — as someone surely must have — was overruled, it seems equally safe to say.
“To tie the Pure Michigan campaign into an issue as politically charged as Right to Work introduces an unprecedented level of politics into a campaign,” says Richard Cole. a PR and advertising professor at Michigan State, who’s cited in a news release from state Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer.
Now the Pure Michigan brand is tied to a hot-button issue, needlessly angering many members of the target audience.
A University of Michigan business professor, Christie Nordhielm, shares her reaction with MLive:
“I would be horrified if I were running the Pure Michigan campaign. I would go insane about this.
“At minimum, it’s just going to kind of dilute a very powerful and kind of focused campaign. At worst, it could actually detract from it. And then what you have is a state spending money against itself.”
Dozens of angry, disappointed reactions are posted on Facebook at the Pure Michigan page — where more than 80 posts on the topic stack up a day after the ad, including many that say the page had been “disliked” to remove it from news feeds.
“Pure Michigan is promoting Right to Work. What does that have to do with the beauty of our state?,” Anne-Marie Stroud of Chelsea posts there.
A Detroit Free Press assistant editor, Jewel Gopwani, blogs that the ad “throws salt into a pretty raw wound.”
This issue has divided our state, and by connecting right-to-work to Pure Michigan, it politicizes a distinctly positive, politically neutral campaign that encourages state pride. It’s disappointing that the state decided to tie Pure Michigan to an issue that has torn Michigan apart.
Her post drew more than 2,000 “like” clicks in a day from Facebook users, 65 tweets and more than 40 comments, including this from Craig Hennigan of Detroit, a 36-year-old graduate teaching assistant at Wayne State:
Injecting divisive politics into a marketing campaign is a surefire way to move toward failure. Attaching that logo to what is perceived as a political message undermines the credibility of the brand. Poor marketing move, Snyder administration.
At Twitter, a 28-year-old Kalamazoo business consultant Matthew Lechel tells followers:
What’s next for #PureMichigan after RtW ad? pro-gun ads? Discrimination against gays? What else on Repub agenda do they support?
If this happened in the private sector, careers would suffer. Blame and consequences for state government screw-ups are less likely, as a prominent business writer messages privately:
So who wrote the copy for the WSJ ad? And who signed off on it at the MEDC? We’ll probably never know.
[Portions of this post originally appeared at Deadline Detroit, a daily news site.]