What Rhode Island “The Biggest Little State in the Union” Means to Me 35 years Later
Today, as a full-time hypnotist, I help Rhode Islanders and people in Southeastern Massachusetts quit smoking, lose weight, make other important changes and train other hypnotists, but in 1981 I had a very different assignment to come up with a slogan to motivate Rhode Island.
In 1981, Rhode Islanders were depressed (or so some state funded research suggested). And why not? After all, Massachusetts was in the middle of its high tech “Mass Miracle”. Connecticut was…well…rich. Rhode Islanders felt like “poor little Rhody.” Economic problems. Corruption. And no respect.
As a young copywriter at HBM/Creamer, my job was to fix it.
I had just moved to Rhode Island from New York. I had no prejudices about my new home state. I thought Rhode Island was beautiful and exciting. I found Rhode Islanders warm and intelligent people. I believed that great things were possible here for me and for my fellow Rhode Islanders.
In fact, I thought Rhode Island was as BIG as anyplace in the world. And I strongly believed as a hypnotist (employed as a copywriter for the state Department of Economic Development’s advertising agency) that the only limitations are those we place on ourselves.
So, I came up with and successfully pitched “We’re the Biggest Little State in the Union” slogan as a battle cry, what we call in hypnosis a “re-framing”. The slogan described our state. But it also gave us something to shoot for. The rest is history.
And sadly that is what the campaign became: history.
At the time, I think the state had allocated a total budget of $30,000 (1981 dollars) for concept and production with the expectation of free media placement for Public Service Announcements.
The hope was that the campaign theme would catch on. And it did. Those old enough to remember the Biggest Little State, recall the PSAs (played free to the state) on local television stations and radio spots, bumper strickers, mugs and, of course, the t-shirts.
I then took the campaign theme and developed print ads promoting Rhode Island for tourism in paid advertising outside our state. The Biggest Little State meant something beyond our borders to attract visitors not just to our beaches but to so much more, from Trinity Rep and other Theater and culture to fine dining on Federal Hill, mansion visiting in Newport.
I am honored to have played a role (however small) in our state’s view of itself. And today, though I still like New York and visit when possible, I love Rhode Island and still see it as big a place as our goals, dreams and imaginations make it.
By the way no one does anything alone in advertising. And I want to thank my good friend Bill Comeau (my boss at the time) and his friend Rob Carlson for the wonderful music that brought my slogan alive. And to David DePetrillo, the Director of Rhode Island Department of Economic Development at the time for his and Bill’s support in bringing it through to its final form under the then Governor Garrahy.