kentucky kicks a**

One of the very first blog posts I published in 2005 was a repurposing of an op-ed article I wrote for the Courier-Journal about the failure of the Unbridled Spirit “rebranding” of Kentucky. I’ve used that story many many times since then. It’s featured prominently in Brand Zeitgeist. I use it in my marketing keynotes when I speak about branding. Because I’m from the Bluegrass State, it’s one of my favorite ways to talk about misconceptions on brand strategy.

branding keynote speechAfter seven years of lackluster response to Unbridled Spirit, someone decided to do something about it. A group calling themselves Kentucky for Kentucky has taken the task of reimagining the branding of the state commonwealth.

They’ve replaced “Unbridled Spirit” with “Kentucky kicks a**” (no asterisks) complete with a YouTube video that’s gone viral and related merchandise.

Their campaign, which is only a few weeks old, has already outpaced the real campaign run by the Kentucky Department of Tourism in Facebook likes, video views, etc. It made a big jump when it picked up national exposure in the USA Today this week.

Many have faulted the state tourism department spokesman for their response, but I can see the point of the tourism bureaucrats trying to distance themselves from this homegrown branding effort because of the vulgarity of it. It plays well with certain demos, but will turn off others which is a death knell for tourism.

While I’ve gone on record against vulgarity, I do like the fact that this campaign does something right. It has emotion. It has personality. Instead of trying to cram a corporate brand message down someone’s throat, it takes the brand equity that is there and translates it into something people want to share and experience. State leaders should take a lesson of how to properly translate a brand message into something people want to share.

(btw. KY does kick a**.)

Chris Houchens is a marketing raconteur & writer. Connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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