Raleigh, N.C. — Nearly 1,000 people, more than half of them state employees, have expressed interest in a proposed license plate featuring North Carolina's new promotional logo.
Officials with the state Department of Commerce announced earlier this month they were gauging interest in the proposal, encouraging drivers to sign up for the plate online. The design features the state's new blue and green pine tree logo with the tagline "Nothing Compares."
Commerce spokeswoman Kim Genardo said more than 500 people signed up online within 48 hours, enough to submit an official request for the plate to the Division of Motor Vehicles on Feb. 15. It will now go before the state legislature for approval, where it would join nearly 200 other options for North Carolina drivers.
The promotional push is another component of a $1.5 million rebranding effort North Carolina officials are using to tie together the look and feel of everything from tourism promotion and business recruitment to official websites and social media. Commerce paid Charlotte design and marketing firm Luquire George Andrews about $450,000 for work on the project.
But the rebrand has its critics: the marketing design blog Brand New named the redesign the worst of 2015, beating out a widely panned new logo from the state of Ohio.
Genardo said review hasn't affected demand for "Nothing Compares"-branded merchandise, which she gets multiple calls about every week.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," she said. "We know that there will be naysayers and there will be positive people."
If state lawmakers OK the plate, it will cost drivers $15 each; $10 of that will cover the costs of manufacturing. The remainder would go back to the Commerce Department for the brand and could fund the creation of additional "Nothing Compares" swag.
"That would be our way to keep the brand out on the marketplace," Genardo said.
Commerce records released this week showed that more than 900 individuals signed up through the department's online form between Feb. 2 and Feb. 15. At least 55 percent of the sign-ups are from state employees, according to state employment data and email addresses listed by users.
That's not surprising, Genardo said, given that the department began promoting the plate internally to state employees just before announcing signups to the public. She said the plate, if approved, will be available to all North Carolina drivers.
"It is resonating in the public," Genardo said. "I am very confident about that."
Paula Thomas, an employment consultant at Commerce, heard about the plate through a department newsletter. She's a fan of the redesign and said she would likely replace her current license plate with the "Nothing Compares" version if the state makes it available.
"I just like the way it looks," Thomas said.
Although he's heard the criticism, Joseph Mohn said he thinks the logo is a good representation of the natural environment the state has to offer.
"The colors, the trees – I kind of gravitate to stuff like that," Mohn, a chemistry technician at the state Department of Environmental Quality, said.
He was already looking to switch up his current plate, so he thought the rebranded one would be a good option.
"I figured, if that's what the state's going with, I represent the state," Mohn said. "I figured I would be a good soldier."
Others aren't so sure.
Nicolle Jones, a Web technology specialist with North Carolina State University, said she's been following the rebrand after working with the project in its early stages as an employee of the state's tourism division. Although she said the resulting logo design is "not my favorite," she still wears one of the pins featuring the pine tree logo on her work badge.
She signed up online after hearing about the plate through a newsletter, but she said it was mostly out of curiosity.
"I pretty much had no intention of getting that license plate," Jones said.
The interest sign-up form is still open to North Carolina drivers.
Margaret Howell, a spokeswoman with DMV, said the agency received the Commerce Department's application for the plate, along with a $7,500 check, on Feb. 15. The DMV will send it to the General Assembly next month, and lawmakers will take it up this year in the short session.
"It probably will be much later than March 15 before we hear back from them," Howell said.
But The News & Observer reported Thursday afternoon that because the department only included 125 "paid applications" from state drivers with its submission to the DMV, the request may not actually meet the legal threshold of 500 applications required for new specialty plates. Genardo said Thursday evening that after researching the law and consulting with the Department of Transportation, commerce officials were confident they would meet the 500-application requirement given the interest.
"Our application and money were in by the deadline," Genardo said in an email.
As a native North Carolinian, Mohn said he hopes the plate will go through. He's a fan of the new "Nothing Compares" slogan and figures it's not going away any time soon.
"We've got the beach, the mountains – to me, nothing compares," he said. "There's no place I'd rather be."