There’s a big, ongoing debate in Kentucky about the state’s image. Some people aren’t satisfied with the current state slogan, Unbridled Spirit, and say Kentucky needs something edgier, more direct.
Horse racing, bourbon and college basketball are some things the Bluegrass State is known for. And if a couple of creative advertising professionals have any say in the matter, Kentucky will be world renowned for something else.
Their idea for a new slogan? Kentucky Kicks Ass.
In a five-minute online video, two men standing on the steps of the state Capitol make their case for the new slogan.
“Go ahead and Google ‘unbridled spirit’ and you know what you come up with? Horseback riding lessons — in San Antonio,” Griffin VanMeter says in the video.
Kentucky natives Whit Hiler and Griffin VanMeter created the video. They work for different advertising firms, but two years ago, the two and another friend started a Facebook page called Kentucky for Kentucky with the goal of crowd-funding a Super Bowl ad focused entirely on the Bluegrass State. They weren’t able to reach the $3.5 million needed for the commercial, but Hiler considers the project a success.
“Everybody was saying ‘kick ass,’” Hiler says. “That was our thing on our Facebook page and so that seemed logical when we came up with the idea of rebranding the state.”
Kentucky adopted the Unbridled Spirit slogan in 2004 and incorporated it into marketing materials, government stationary and license plates. But VanMeter says that’s the state’s message is not something people would actually use in normal conversation.
“You have to stand out and you have to take risks if you want to do this branding and to get noticed,” he says. “And you need mantras that people can rally behind.”
Tourism slogans come and go. Last year, Florida unveiled “Must Be the Sunshine” and Connecticut wants you to know that it’s “Still Revolutionary.”
When the Kentucky Kicks Ass campaign launched, VanMeter wasn’t sure how officials would respond.
“Maybe the state will just write us a check and be like ‘you guys are awesome,’ and give us a key to the state of Kentucky. Um…,” he says jokingly.
They didn’t get a key to the state, but the guys did catch the attention of national press. A state tourism spokesman told USA Today that officials would not endorse the “kick ass” phraseology because the campaign organizers have a “different constituency. Which is no one.”
“I think that they probably have a pretty good constituency,” Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear says.
Fans of the edgy campaign fired back at the state for its stiff response to Kentucky Kicks Ass, and officials have softened their opinion.
“I think it’s fun,” Gov. Beshear says. “I think these guys are very innovative and they’re attracting a lot of attention, good attention, for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. So I urge them on in all of their innovative thinking.”
Officially, Kentucky’s sticking with Unbridled Spirit, but VanMeter and Hiler were able to sit down and discuss the campaign with the state tourism cabinet.
They’re now selling t-shirts and prints of their slogan to customers all over the world — apparently there are people in England and Japan who also think “Kentucky kicks ass.”