What comes to mind when you think about Kentucky? (Assuming you do think about Kentucky, that is.)
I’m betting fried chicken, bourbon and horse racing.
But some grassroots marketers are pushing to supplant those Bluegrass State images with this sentiment: Kentucky Kicks Ass. (That’s “kicks ass” as in “We’re really cool,” as opposed to “kicks ass” as in “We’re aiming a boot at your unsuspecting rear end.”)
The proposed slogan has a certain redneck swagger, unlike the considerably more demure “Kentucky — Unbridled Spirit,” which has been the state’s tagline since 2005. A group of advertising guys who dub themselves Kentucky for Kentucky coined the slogan — along with ad prototypes, a video and T-shirts — declaring it “unexpected and bold … coming from a state that’s considered to be fairly conservative.”
State officials have a different view.
“We certainly would not sanction or endorse that phraseology,” says state tourism department spokesman Pat Sipes. “These guys are Kentucky natives and they love the state. But they have a different constituency. Which is no one.”
State slogans are tricky. They’re supposed to lure tourists and new businesses, and, as the Kentucky Kicks Ass creators stress in their promotional video, foster state spirit and quash stereotypes. (Cue the mullet-coiffed shirtless guy leaning against a pickup.)
But capturing the essence of a place in a few short words is a daunting challenge.
Some state slogans are simple commands: “Explore Minnesota.” Some are grandiose: “North Dakota: Legendary.” Some raise questions: “North Carolina: A Better Place to Be.” (Better than where?)
One of the most enduring, “Virginia Is for Lovers” has been around for 43 years. It was coined in 1969 (eight years before another stalwart, “I LOVE NY”) and was the brainchild of a $100-a-week copywriter who paired two irresistible concepts — travel and romance.
But the essential question: Do these slogans work?
Not really, Cornell University marketing professor Chekitan Dev told me a few years back. Two reasons for failure: They don’t truly differentiate a place, and the destinations often can’t back up their claims.
So whether Kentucky really kicks ass, is in the eye — or some more nether region — of the beholder.
Not that it matters. The odds that Kentucky Kicks Ass will replace Kentucky — Unbridled Spirit are ” zero,” Stipes says.
Perhaps. But the Kentucky for Kentucky guys can dream, can’t they?
“Go ahead and Google “Unbridled Spirit,” challenges Griffin VanMeter in the group’s promotional video. “You know what you come up with? Horseback riding lessons. In San Antonio.”