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.
WHY I HOPE THE NEW ILOVENY LOGO GOES THE WAY OF NEW COKE
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.