Like It or Not, Kentucky for Kentucky’s Vigilante Campaign is Working

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At this point we’re all aware, embarrassed or proud of, currently watching or blocking the Kentucky Kicks Ass video by Kentucky for Kentucky.

I think I’ve seen every opinion there is about this video, ranging from endorsement to total disgust.

I don’t understand the rejection. And beyond that, if you’re offended by this video, you may have missed the point all together.

So far, “Kentucky for Kentucky” has been received national press from USA Today, PolicyMic, The Huffington Post, Media Post and Ad Week. Meanwhile, “Kentucky Tourism” press coverage stops with in-state publications, well, sans Kentucky for Kentucky’s headline help.

That’s my point. And I think it’s Kentucky for Kentucky’s, too.

No one is trying to hang a neon “Kentucky Kicks Ass” sign in the middle of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel or Sherman Minton Bridge. The goal of this project is to tell people that Kentucky’s roots run deeper than a barefoot heel can dig. You know about our bourbon, but did you know that Bardstown, Ky., the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” was named the Most Beautiful Small Town in America? Murray, Ky. is the friendliest. Louisville is the manliest, one of the tastiest and about two dozen other things. Kentucky is awesome, and this rogue campaign is at least harnessing that, which is more than the Kentucky Tourism department can claim.

When USA Today got wind of the campaign, they asked state officials what they thought. Their answer was less than supportive, not only missing a huge opportunity to ride — basically for free — on the tailwind of the buzz Kentucky for Kentucky has built. Tom Eblen said it all better than I can, so I won’t say it again. Just read his column.

I’ve discussed with several people about this campaign and whether or not it’s the right approach for the state. One person said Kentucky needs to tackle its real problems before labeling itself with such a goofy tagline. I would say that point is moot after the half a million dollars was spent on “Unbridled Spirit,” but in all reality, a tourism campaign’s purpose is not tackling the state’s underlying social issues, but highlighting its attractive assets to increase our revenue from out-of-state dollars.

Another person said Kentucky needs more than some good food in Louisville and a few museums to actually draw tourist from across the country. My answer to that is two fold. First, we’re not necessarily trying to pull travelers from the west coast. A person from Ohio, Indiana, Missouri or any of Kentucky’s neighbors has money just as green as someone from California. And secondly, Kentucky’s possibilities with adventure tourism are limitless and largely untapped. Here, a person to kayak, canoe, hunt, fish, off-road, camp, hike, zip line, rock climb or go spelunking, all within state lines and a few hours drive at most.

If you’re offended by the word “ass,” that’s fine. I get it. But before you criticize the gentlemen’s effort to tell people about the state they love, consider their motives, and consider what they have accomplished. If nothing else I think we have to give them some credit for the PR they have earned for the state, for better or worse.

I think it’s for the better, though.


  • Angela
    January 15, 2013, 7:01 pm  Reply

    Good points, Brad. I like it a little more after reading your point of view. I can shed insight from the view of relative newcomer to the state, having only been a resident for 3 1/2 years. I see it as more of a campaign to get Kentuckians excited about Kentucky. I don’t think that is a bad thing and for a grassroots sort of campaign it works. The message itself is great in that it is disruptive but then falls flat, to outsiders at least, but not to those proud of Kentucky. Again, not a bad thing. Residents can rally around it and get excited about it and wear the tshirts etc…which ultimately works. The reason I personally don’t like it is because any state can say that it is kick ass. The message itself doesn’t differentiate it enough. “Kentucky Kicks Ass” doesn’t tell me about Kentucky. Or why it kicks ass. Or why I should care or investigate why it kicks ass. I can say that Louisiana Kicks Ass but what does that tell you or someone who doesn’t live there? Does it make you want to find out more about Louisiana? (Kind of wish we had the line since the state is known as “the boot”!). But getting the essence of why Kentucky Kicks Ass into one little tagline is a tall order and “Unbridled Spirit” doesn’t do it either. It wins on state pride. Two thumbs up for that.

    • January 15, 2013, 9:25 pm

      Thanks for the response and input. I don’t think Kentucky for Kentucky would argue that other states aren’t worth visiting, but this message is paired with the oddities about Kentucky, so each ad that I’ve seen gives you the reason Kentucky kicks so much ass.

      For example:

      More than anything, I don’t think it’s to be accepted by the state as its funded tagline, rather it’s supposed to generate buzz. It may not tell you much about Kentucky, but it’s certainly gotten a lot of people nationwide talking about us. If you look at some of the most widely-known state slogans, they don’t really tell you much about the state either, but pique curiosity.

      If Kentucky for Kentucky rolled out another “It’s that Friendly,” we wouldn’t even be having this debate, because no one would have noticed. But they tapped into a new generation’s “wit, appreciation for irony and irreverence,” as Brian Powers said: https://bizlex.com/2013/01/op-ed-an-open-letter-from-a-member-of-a-non-existent-constituency-to-patrick-stipes-of-kentucky-tourism/

  • January 16, 2013, 5:14 pm  Reply

    Good article, and a fun campaign. It’s quirky and off-the-wall, which is what some of the best marketing campaigns that gain attention are (look at the Old Spice Man commercials). Maybe it makes people want to visit Kentucky, maybe it doesn’t, but what it does is get people at least looking at our great state and to maybe ask the question, “why does Kentucky kick ass?”. To me, it’s the same kind of attention we love getting when the local football or basketball teams do well nationally, it makes others look at us for more than being hillbillies. hahaha.

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