America House Communication isn't making a bushel of money on a yearlong promotion for the state of Rhode Island targeted to families, but its idea to turn "native son" Mr. Potato Head and spouse into ambassadors for the state is generating plenty of publicity.
That should spur increased visitation to the state where dozens of six-foot Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head statues are sprouting up to promote Rhode Island as the "Birthplace of fun."
"It's easy to put Mr. Potato Head in ads, but we needed a product that people could find and visit; and that's why we came up with the role of ambassador," said America House president and creative director Stuart McNaught. Ads created by America House are running in parent- and travel-oriented publications and metro dailies such as The Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe.
The statues are created by Amaral Custom Fabrications from materials suitable for painting, and turned over to an artist who is sponsored by a business and who transforms the spud into an original work of art. At the ferry stand on Block Island, for example, travelers will be greeted by a mosaic tiled Mrs. Potato Head created by Cindy Kelly. It is sponsored by the Block Island Tourism Council. In all, McNaught envisions as many as 100 artful characters at destinations throughout the state.
The agency's budget for the program--including the cost of building a site and various collateral materials--was $193,000, McNaught said, adding, "It's a champagne program on a beer budget."
The project stems from work that the 22-person shop had created for the Newport and Providence Convention and Visitors Bureaus with the cooperation of Hasbro and the state's desire to create a program that reaches out to families. Instrumental in carrying it off is Martha Sheridan, who joined America House as vice president a year ago from the Providence CVB.
Duffy & Shanley, agency of record for the state's tourism office, had no role in the development of the program and could be challenged later this year when the account is expected to be reviewed. A spokesperson for the state could not be reached for comment at press time. K