LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: All about branding

Sat, 08/13/2022 - 12:00pm

To the Editor,
A brand is considered in crisis when it fails to shape its own narrative and instead is defined by exterior forces, events, and voices. So early Tuesday morning, when the New York Post website (133,600,000 monthly views) ran the headline “Multiple Injured in Fight Aboard Rhode Island Ferry,” the Block Island brand may have crossed the line into full-crisis mode.
Consider the predominant news themes from Block Island this summer: armed brawls, sexual assault, under-aged drinking, undercover sting operations, open container violations, along with continuing laments about congestion, traffic, and moped injuries. Consider too that the day before the N.Y. Post reported that “multiple people suffered razor lacerations” aboard our primary transportation link to the mainland, the same paper ran an article about the rise in popularity of one of our sister islands with the lede: “Forget Ibiza. Thanks to the ‘coastal granny’ trend, the summer vacation du jour...is Nantucket and other beachy locales that are decidedly more Nancy Meyers than thumping
I’m not arguing for the Nantuckification of Block Island, and I’ll refrain from commenting about the inexplicable #coastalgrandmother meme – a viral style trend that has racked up over 188,000,000 TikTok views – but if you’re planning a vacation with your family next summer, do you choose the place described in the paper as “light, bright and airy” or the one labeled a “crime scene”?
Clearly, we have reached a point where a handful of powerful private businesses are defining the Block Island brand. One is a sprawling alcohol distribution center that spills over to engulf the entire town and regularly dumps its incoherently inebriated patrons back onto the ferry or the front porch of our medical center to recover from an overdose of discount 151-rum Jell-O shot injectors. (The fact they dispense their product in simulated hypodermic needles should tell us something, no?) Others operate an essentially unregulated, island-wide moped-mounted carnival ride – the track of which incorporates the entire island road network – staffed by taxpayer-funded police, EMTs, air evacuation squads, road crews, and medical center personnel.
The havoc associated with these businesses is not an unfortunate accident or the result of a few bad apples: it’s their business model. The thing about brands is they tend to be self-fulfilling; once established, they grow into their image. So, the more stories circulate about lawlessness, chaos, and mayhem on Block Island, the more we attract an audience for whom getting wasted, passing out, and waking to a razor-wielding melee sounds like an awesome Saturday night. (And it is important to remember that the vast majority of these stories are shared by active participants on peer-to-peer platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, not through conventional advertising,media, or PR.) There is no reason, in fact, why this sense of anarchy couldn’t be the essential Block Island brand; there are plenty of places that have made their name as party meccas: think New Orleans, Las Vegas, or Nashville.
The question for branding, however, is not where we are but what we hope to be. Unless we have a clear idea of what we are aiming for, it is impossible to decide the actions to get there. But one thing is for sure; if we don’t define ourselves, the work will be done for us by others. And if Monday night is any indication, I doubt we’ll be happy with where we end up.
Michael Rock
Corn Neck Road