New York’s Latest Tourism Pitch: I [Anything] N.Y.

Critics say the state's plan to replace its iconic tourism logo violates one cardinal rule: don't mess with success.

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One of New York's new tourism logos: "I [Baseball] NY"?

You do not tweak a beloved logo without getting pushback. This summer, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced the state will be crowd-sourcing a new tourist campaign to allow the iconic “I  [Heart] NY” logo to be replaced with “I [insert anything here] NY.” It’s easy to see why the state’s tourism folks thought this was a good idea — there’s endless social-media tie-in opportunities.

But the campaign, part of a new $5 million marketing push, isn’t drawing raves. Take it from the man behind the the ingenious 1977 logo design, Milton Glaser. “I don’t understand it,” he explained to the New York Post. “I saw one that said, ‘I Pizza NY.’ I don’t get it.”

That’s the problem with a crowd-sourced logo. It doesn’t have any message. As Capital New York editor Tom McGeveran put it, the idea “gives the I ♥ NY logo a personality disorder.” It’s not like the logo hasn’t been modified before — visit any discount t-shirt shop in Manhattan, or any other city whose name breaks down into two characters. But… well, just watch the ad. It features the logo morphed into a hot-air balloon, a beach ball, a roller coaster, a race car, Niagara Falls, a castle, a fisherman, and a wineglass and bottle. It’s also bland.

Or worse. It’s “like slapping tattoos on the Statue of Liberty to keep up with the trends of the 21st century,” groused one New York Daily News columnist. Again, the biggest problem is that “[Anything]” is unmemorable. The campaign “took that one-of-a-kind icon and made it even more dynamic in order to match the dynamism and diversity of New York,” the chief creative officer of the advertising firm behind the idea stated in a press release. Well, it sounds logical. But as McGeveran noted, it’s flawed logic:

Of course it’s supposed to be about what these people love about New York. But the pizza replaces the love, rather than becoming its object. The object in the puzzle, when you resolve it into a sentence, is New York. (If you love lighthouses, why not replace the letters “NY” with the letters “LIGHTHOUSES”?

The “whatever you make of it” aspect of the “I [Anything] NY” marketing push also faintly recalls the recent “Land of Dreams” ads, which tried selling the United States to globe-trotting tourists. That official USA tourist campaign forwent showing a reel of iconic tourist destinations (Statue of Liberty, Mt. Rushmore, etc.) to highlight scenes of slightly more offbeat Americana. It didn’t make a lasting impression either.