Whit Hiler and Griffin Van Meter of Kentucky for Kentucky spoke at the Lexington Public Library Thursday.
Best known for “Kentucky Kicks Ass,” they spoke about their unorthodox tourism campaign to rebrand the Commonwealth. Van Meter says the idea came from a perceived disconnect between state marketing and the people it was supposed to represent.
“We thought that the brand was lacking, that the current brand, “unbridled spirit, wasn’t reflective of the true populace of the commonwealth, and what the Kentuckians think about themselves, so we saw an opportunity to be disruptive," he said.
And disruptive they were. The two were able to popularize “Kentucky Kicks Ass” as an unofficial state slogan, and even provoke a cease and desist letter from Frankfort. Both men stated they had been tasked to rebrand Kentucky, with Frankfort thinking they claimed state authorization. However, they never specifically said who tasked them, and accused Frankfort of lying about them.
Van Meter says this general irreverence helped attract a younger, local demographic (by contrast, he said Unbridled Spirit was designed for aged out of state tourists). This group can then act as ambassadors for the Commonwealth at large. He adds that the momentum from the campaign allowed them to sell several tie-in products over the web, including t-shirts (one picked up by Jennifer Lawrence), tattoos (permanent, which they pay for), and fried chicken scented candles.
"It's been amazing. What we’ve been able to do is build out a merchandising company that can have long-lasting economic development impact for the state of Kentucky. We didn’t know that was going to happen, but it was all momentum driven.”
Van Meter and Hiler’s visit was part of Emerge 14, a Commerce Lexington event focused on empowering young professionals and highlighting those making a difference in the state economy.