Brand owners never really own the brand. Consumers do.
I recently spoke at two events for Destination Marketing Association International. Their members are marketers tasked with driving tourism to their regions. I came across a tourism case study about who really “owns” a brand.
The Kentucky Department of Tourism invested $600,000 to “brand” the state of Kentucky. They came up with the slogan, “Unbridled Spirit”, and drafted the following positioning statement: “Kentucky is a place where spirits are free to soar and big dreams can be fulfilled. We relish competition and cherish our champions for their willingness to push beyond conventional boundaries to reach new heights of success.”
A couple ad guys from Kentucky found the official Kentucky brand lacking, and took it on themselves to rebrand the state. Their slogan: “Kentucky Kicks Ass”. They launched a video of kick-ass Kentuckians and created assets with Kentucky factoids like “In Kentucky, there are more barrels of bourbon than there are people.”
When asked about the “Kentucky Kicks Ass” movement, the Kentucky Department of Tourism was not amused: “We certainly would not sanction or endorse that phraseology. These guys are Kentucky natives and they love the state. But they have a different constituency. Which is no one.”
The Internet loves statements like that. This catapulted the “Kentucky Kicks Ass” movement (and #constituencyofnoone hashtag) to popular imagination everywhere, including Conan O’Brien’s opening monolog. This ironically created great publicity for the state of Kentucky (despite the tourism department’s best efforts). It also encouraged the guys behind Kentucky Kicks Ass to keep going.
“Regardless of what Kentucky’s Tourism Department says, we’re rebranding the state. A grass roots movement is taking place – driven by proud Kentuckians, the Internets and a little social media. Our goals remain the same – increase tourism, foster pride, diminish stereotypes, bring in new business and distinguish Kentucky from any other place on the planet.”
Marketers all want to generate word-of-mouth for our brands. But we sometimes forget that this inherently means giving up control. It requires a fundamentally different mindset. “Sanctioning and condoning” doesn’t work in a social media world. We can’t script the creative force of brand advocacy, but we can channel it.
We need to remember that advocates are every bit a part of the marketing team as the marketers themselves.
(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post. I’ll pick one comment at 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)
19 CommentsJoin the Discussion
Arie Stuijt, VG-PME says
The “user” is bound to “own” the meaning of any word, or brand, since all expressions are observed from the I, the me. And not “the other”.
The sad thing about this is, instead of one united Kentucky voice shouting louder and with more impact than anyone else, there are now two disparate groups clamouring for share of voice. If Kentucky Tourism would embrace the Kentucky4Kentucky guys,everyone would win! While this post is a great lesson in who owns what in the social space and viral age, it’s also a billboard for the power of working together and the weaknesses of working apart. (Although I’d suggest the two organisations have such different cultures it’d be like Ben and Jerry working with Tracy Anderson on a new comfort food!)
John Dodds says
Having visited Kentucky from the UK on a number of occassions, I agree with the “two ad guys” and can confirm that it kicks ass in pretty much every category.
But, unlike the Department of Tourism’s marketers, my travels have also taken me to poverty-scarred East Kentucky where spirits are far from free to soar and tourism is not going to make their dreams come true.
Not only are advocates every bit a part of the marketing team as the marketers, it is essential that the marketers are informed advocates themselves.
Bill Carlson says
Interestingly, they can both be right but you need to be open to that… If you take “Kicks Ass” and follow it up with the Dept. of Tourism’s positioning statement, mission accomplished.
The Dept. of Tourism positioning statement is nice enough but it’s the safe approach — and the kind of thing people read and think “yeah, okay, whatever…”. And they get there because they can’t connect with soft and fluffy.
But “Kicks Ass” evokes some immediate gut reaction, the kind of claim that pushes the pride button. Would bet there were some stronger, perhaps even more provocative ideas in the creative process which got killed because “we can’t say that” took over. Or “we need to change people’s perceptions.”
And the miss here is that the Dept. of Tourism folks had an opportunity to actually… well… “endorse” might be too strong but connect with this grass roots creativity — even claim that the effort itself is reflective of their positioning statement.
Best lesson of all is one that seems to keep needing to be re-learned — a defensive posture is rarely the right one when it comes to this sort of thing, need to accept certain things, make the best of it and move on from there.
So then.. “OHIO!! Still looking for a professional football team!!” would be a good grass roots brand or a bad one? I’m confused.
Enjoyed reading this article, especially because I believe most tourism marketing doesn’t “kick ass”. In fact, most of it, quite frankly, is quite bad. It tends to pander to the 27 constituents it serves and appeals to people who LIVE in a state, vs. addressing what matters most to people who might, in all likelihood, visit the state. Some organizations just can’t move past the idea of telling people what they want them to know, instead of understanding what their audience needs to hear. This article also raises the question of the distinction between a solid brand position and the audience-facing manifestation of that positioning in clever and creative marketing. Advertising is NOT the same as strategic brand positioning, but far too often it becomes positioning because there is no underlying brand positioning (good or bad) to strategically drive creative development and messaging.
Simon Rees says
I dread to think how the people here in Ireland would rebrand the country – in deep financial trouble & currently enduring a very cold & wet spring.
I lecture in word-of-mouth marketing and and this story will make a great case study – thanks!
Ori Pomerantz says
In the middle of the 20th century most communication technologies were monologue broadcast. You had to be a very wealthy and powerful organization to make movies, or run a TV or radio station. As a result, it was the “golden” age of totalitarianism. Brands, which are pretty benign, might dominate the conversation. So could rulers like Stalin and Mao(1).
Today things are different. Most communication technologies are Internet-mediated, narrow-cast, dialogue-driven. You cannot control the conversation. Hosni Mubarak, with dictatorial powers over Egypt, failed miserably. And your brand is it going to succeed? You have to live with it, and figure how to use it. The world will not turn back the clock for your benefit.
(1) Phew, I managed to avoid violating Godwin’s rule by listing only the top two (by civilian body count) instead of top three.
Dave Kreimer says
The state folks could not have chosen such crass wording as “kick ass” even if they wanted to. This example shows that established media and social media play by different rules. Part of the power of social media is its ability to be politically incorrect and controversial. Americans love a rebel!
Ted Simon says
As usual…Tom Fishburne kicks ass!
Jackie Huba says
This cartoon is right on. I have heard this sentiment one too many times over years in talking to senior executives about word-of-mouth marketing. Now with social media, branding is what people say about your product, not what you say about your product. And love the story about Kentucky Department of Tourism!
Jon Lehre says
(Okay, Beth already said pretty much what I am saying here but since I typed it up, I’m sending it anyway)
There’s a HUGE disconnect between what works on the web (honest and/or funny) and what marketers are often asked to do (image polishing, ego soothing). Promotions often try to show what they want a state (or other commodity) to be, not what it truly is. I’ve seen the watered down results of branding efforts in my own county/city with well-meaning solutions that are meant to appeal to everyone but which usually end up as message-free pablum that work for no one. Just like any product, find a realistic target market and produce materials accordingly. The cartoon is dead on with the desires of the branding groups. But when you straight-jacket a concept, it loses energy and becomes useless. That being said, it’s also a lot easier to react to something than to create something. The internet LOVES to screw with a self-important, boring promo. That’s one way to go viral!
2 key thoughts come to mind for me.
The first is the irony of being critical to the ‘kick ass’ crew despite claiming ‘We relish competition and cherish our champions’.
The second is they seem to have forgotten a 1st principal of marketing – differentiation. There is almost nothing in their state ‘values’ that couldn’t be claimed by many other states. However ‘more barrels of bourbon that people’ is attention grabbing and unique. ‘Kick ass’ is also pretty unique as most agencies would be scared of using it.
The fact that I’m starting my working day 5000 miles away, back in a small village in The Netherlands, with this marketoon and video and will for always remember the slogan is the proof this W-O-M is working! Kentucky Kicks Ass!
Kevin Francis says
Sadly lacking in the “official” piece but also perhaps with the “Kick Ass” guys is a clear focus on 1. the objective of the exercise and 2. the intended audience. What on earth is the “official” positioning statement supposed to mean? To me, it’s the typical mainstream corporate BS drivel.
And with the “Kick Ass” guys, is having more barrels of bourbon than people a plus for businesses? I appreciate that I’m not seeing that quote in context but does Kentucky really want to give the impression it’s a land of drunken hillbillies?
Broader point is well made. In today’s world, businesses have far less control over their image. Another advantage of direct response…greater control over the selling environment.
The cartoon says it all. Generating “WOM” (word of mouth) means giving up a certain amount of control and allowing your brand advocates, lovers, fans and followers to help shape your message and image to the mass audience. The best thing a brand can do, is listen, engage in conversation, learn and adjust to what the consumers perception of the brand is. data & research and social listening tools are key to this approach
dont be like “mr. head of the table” in the cartoon. be a little more like the guys from “kentucky kicks ass” . building a proper framework for your brand to play in and allowing consumers to shape the message inside of that framework seems like a hypothesis for both the boardroom (depicted in the cartoon) and the cafeteria (where all of our social media fans express their opinions)
Wendy Kikkert says
Reminds me of the old Dudley Moore movie “Crazy People” – advertising executive hits a writing block because he’s tired of writing bs. He decides to come up with “Honest marketing” for a change, and is committed to a mental hospital. His slogans, like “Volvo. Boxy, but good.” get printed by mistake, and they’re an immediate hit. The rest of the movie is classic, so I won’t repeat it, but the raw honesty of the Kentucky Kick Ass campaign grabs you!
James Wroe says
There’s been a similar story going around over the past day or so regarding Nutella’s parent company, Ferrero, putting out a cease and desist order to a fan run “nutella day”.
I can at least see the rationale of the Kentucky tourist board to distance themselves for fear of offending certain people (though that could have been done in a positive rather than abrupt and rude way) but the Ferrero case blows me away. Why a company wouldn’t want to encourage a celebration of their product by consumers is beyond me.
Many thanks for the great insights. This week’s print goes to Bill. I think he touches on the exact right tone to take with this kind of advocacy. It’s not about endorsing. It’s not about sanctioning and condoning. But it’s about allowing your audience to run with it.