Monthly Archives: June 2012

Captain Renault and the Committee to Save New York

As  Captain Renault famously said in Casablanca. “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.”

Much, perhaps even too much has already been written about Governor Cuomo and the Committee to Save NY (CSNY).  Like Captain Renault feigning outrage, the breathless criticism and scathing editorials are all in my estimation much ado about nothing.

However, even at the formation of CSNY I expressed reservations about the approach, some of which I standby others that I was dead wrong about.

First, and foremost this episode is hardly a surprise.

When CSNY was formed it was obvious that at some point – this point – would come about.

It was inevitable that critics, opponents, reporters and so-called good government groups would try to connect the dots between contributions, the committee and the Governor’s policies.

The thing about dots though is they are not connected.

Casino gaming just happens to be a much more acceptable boogie man than say, same-sex marriage advocates who make no qualms about vocally articulating that contributions reward policy positions. (I’m betting we won’t see that splashed on the Times Editorial pages any time soon)

Second, at the time I believed that Governor Cuomo should just avoid the inevitable controversy. He, like past Governors, should just take his lumps as he went along, deal with the lower poll numbers that accompanied tough decisions, confident that he would have the campaign resources and the improved economy to come out of it in time for his reelection.

Well, I was right in the first instance but definitely wrong in the second.

CSNY has done nothing wrong. They have complied with every law and conducted their advocacy efforts effectively. To be accurate they aren’t actually the committee to save New York – they are the committee to promote Andrew Cuomo – but to date the moniker and the goal have largely coincided.

Most importantly, save for some positional gymnastics, the Governor has done nothing wrong – he just didn’t stick the proverbial dismount.

The answer to the question — why does Genting or anyone for that matter donate?  It is because they believe in the Governor’s policies – not because “he” believes in “theirs”.

The answer to the question why does anyone give to CSNY is because they believe in the organizatIon’s goals.

There are no other answers and everyone can bay and cry as much as they like – but it is what it is.

The press and goo-goos will bemoan the fact that money has a pernicious effect on politics and to an extent they are right.  But experience tells us it is even more pernicious when one side is completely unarmed.

For years, New York’s special interests especially the unions and hospitals ruled the roost in Albany.  When they ran up against policies they didn’t like they simply dropped millions in negative ads on the Governor – eroding poll ratings and simultaneously emboldening legislative spending sprees.

I was wrong about Governor Cuomo taking his lumps. I for one am glad that the CSNY exists and wish something like it was around when Governor Pataki was in office.

Governor Cuomo’s high poll numbers coupled with by and large a solid performance (except that nasty tax hike) has kept order and the special interests in line.

There is a lot more to be done to get New York State moving again and the Governor has his work cut out for him. It’s a daunting task that requires a full commitment and an arsenal of resources, including CSNY.

At some point I expect the Committee to Save New York and actually saving New York might become mutually exclusive goals – but for right now everyone should stop acting like Captain Renault, take your winnings and move on.



For reasons that will become apparent by the close of this post, the ILOVENY campaign is near and dear to my heart.  I follow with more than a passing interest its ups and downs, its ads, its promotions and the personnel and agencies that are retained as custodians.  It is truly iconic and certainly the single most influential and successful brand ever launched by the public sector.  So it was with a little sadness that I watched as the Governor unveiled a new campaign and logo this week that literally took the heart out of ILOVENY.

Having been responsible for the ILOVENY program for a number of years I understand intrinsically the temptation and the pressures to tinker with the brand. Been there, done that.
And to be clear this is a tinkering, the logo retains the familiar lettering and shape, but the heart has been removed and subbed with various activities, items and locations.  While clever, it’s actually in all honesty not a unique or particularly inspired approach.  In fact, it’s entirely consistent with the countless pitches I sat through from high-priced Madison Avenue firms that promised to revitalize the brand by personalizing the campaign and slogan — a what is MY New York approach.
In addition to the eager political appointees like me and fee driven ad agencies that constantly wanted to re-imagine the brand, over the years some industry and regional tourism interests came forward to complain that the brand was singularly synonymous with New York City.  They argued that the brand means Broadway, the Statue of Liberty and the isle of Manhattan not Niagara Falls or the Adirondacks.  And so while we always entertained, sought out ideas and mulled the “historic” implications of remaking the brand – at every turn and in every analysis we couldn’t pull the trigger and here is why.
First, there is thirty-five years of equity that is built into the ILOVENY brand.  It has been recognized by Ad Age as one of the top 50 all time brands in the world. Literally, hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds have been spent to promote the brand and the campaign around the world.  That level of equity and awareness is hard if not impossible today to buy back for any entity let alone a public one.
Further, in explaining the logo change DDBO Chairman David Lubars told the Daily News “That icon has been co-opted by literally the rest of the world,”  He added, “If you go to Russia, if you go to Spain, you see I heart something and it’s lost its New York cachet.”  Really?  So the brand is too ubiquitous?   Yes, you can see it on a bumper sticker of an US Army jeep in Afghanistan or a tee-shirt in Beijing.  Isn’t that the point — it’s known from Russia to Spain and beyond.  What brand wouldn’t want that level of recognition?  It’s true that the brand has been copied and pirated throughout the world – but even in those violations of trademark – imitation remains the sincerest form of flattery and extends the idea of New York as a destination. 
Finally, as a custodian of the brand you learn its history, how pivotal a role it played in revitalizing NYC, in particular Broadway and as a result it’s just hard to walk away from.
There are also serious brand management questions that deserve further discussion?  How much will it cost the state to rebuild the brand equity? How many different locations can be incorporated into the logo and then given enough paid advertising to make a difference? How will they select co-branding elements?  Are other commercial brands like Nike or the Great Escape eligible for co-branding?  If so, how are they selected? And what happens to the song?
But for all the business and marketing reasons that are debatable, my reasons for wanting the heart to stay in ILOVENY are much more visceral and personal.
In the aftermath of 9/11 the ILOVENY call center at Empire State Development was converted overnight into an emergency information center. For weeks, while phone service was disrupted or down in New York City, 1800ILOVENY was a source of comfort and information to literally thousands and thousands of New Yorkers who were desperate, scared and disconnected.  The great and yes I mean great public servants at Empire State Development along with volunteers took shifts literally around the clock to manage the ILOVENY call center.  They took calls from people who were looking for information on lost family members, people who left their medicines or pets inside the frozen zone or some individuals who were  just in shock and needed someone to talk to. I will never forget their stories or their commitment.
In those dark days, the heart in ILOVENY wasn’t just a symbol – it was an emotion and a literal call to action.
That’s why when Milton Glaser, who for some reason has been remarkably quiet throughout this episode, decided he would without permission or discussion, relaunch the logo with a singed heart we worked to stop him.  While we appreciated the sentiment, no murdering, hate-filled terrorist was going to have the satisfaction of breaking New York’s heart –  it mattered.
And finally, when it came time to restart tourism and tell the world that New York was safe and to come back – it was “three simple words” that said it all, ILOVENY.
New Day” was not the best ad ever made, for that matter it’s not even the best ILOVENY ad ever made, but it was the ad that meant the most to me and the reason I hope the new logo goes the way of New Coke.