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!)