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Unbridled Kentuckians Decide It's Time For A Kick-Ass New Slogan

Jan 28, 2013
Originally published on January 28, 2013 6:23 pm

Kentucky is known for horse racing, bourbon and college basketball. And if a couple of creative advertising professionals have any say in the matter, the Bluegrass State will be world renowned for something else.

They want the state to replace its current slogan, Unbridled Spirit, with a new one — Kentucky Kicks Ass.

In a five-minute online video, Kentucky natives Griffin VanMeter and Whit Hiler stand on the steps of the state Capitol and make their case.

"Go ahead and Google 'unbridled spirit' and you know what you come up with? Horseback riding lessons — in San Antonio," VanMeter says in the video.

VanMeter and Hiler 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 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 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."

Fans of the edgy campaign fired back at the state for its stiff response, and officials have softened their opinion.

"I think that they probably have a pretty good constituency," Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear says. "I think it's fun. 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 is sticking with Unbridled Spirit, but VanMeter and Hiler were able to sit down and discuss the campaign with state tourism officials.

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."

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

In Kentucky, a push is on to remake the state's image. A couple of marketers say they're not satisfied with the state's slogan, Unbridled Spirit. They say Kentucky needs something edgier, something a little more direct. Here's Brenna Angel of member station WUKY.

BRENNA ANGEL, BYLINE: The Bluegrass State is known for its horse racing...

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSE RACING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Down the stretch they come in the Derby.

ANGEL: ...its bourbon...

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Wild Turkey: Kentucky

ANGEL: The Bluegrass State is known for its horse racing...

(SOUNDBITE OF HORSE RACING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Down the stretch they come in the Derby.

ANGEL: ...its bourbon...

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Wild Turkey: Real Kentucky bourbon.

ANGEL: ...college basketball...

(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL GAME)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: From the corner - that's a three.

ANGEL: And if a couple of creative advertising pros have any say in the matter, Kentucky will be world renowned for something else.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Kentucky kicks ass.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Kentucky kicks ass.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Kentucky kicks ass.

ANGEL: In a five-minute online video, two guys standing on the steps of the State Capitol make their case for the new slogan. That three-letter word stirs up a lot of emotion and gets attention. And the slogan is far different from the current one.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL AD)

GRIFFIN VANMETER: Go ahead and Google unbridled spirit, and you know what you come up with? Horseback riding lessons - in San Antonio.

ANGEL: Kentucky natives Griffin VanMeter and Whit Hiler created the video. They both work for different advertising firms. Two years ago, they, along with another friend, started a Facebook page called Kentucky for Kentucky with the goal of crowdfunding 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.

WHIT HILER: Everybody was saying kick ass. That was our thing on our Facebook page and - so that seemed logical when we came up with the idea of rebranding the state.

ANGEL: Kentucky adopted the Unbridled Spirit slogan in 2004 and incorporated it into marketing materials, government stationary and license plates. But Griffin VanMeter says that's the state's message, not something people would actually use in normal conversation.

VANMETER: You have to stand out, and you have to take risks if you want to do this branding and to get noticed. And you need mantras that people can rally behind.

ANGEL: 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 campaign launched, VanMeter wasn't sure how officials would respond.

VANMETER: 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.

(LAUGHTER)

ANGEL: 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 phraseology because the campaign organizers have a, quote, "different constituency, which is no one."

GOVERNOR STEVE BESHEAR: I think that they probably have a pretty good constituency.

ANGEL: That's Steve Beshear, the governor of Kentucky. Fans of the edgy campaign fired back at the state for its stiff response, and officials have softened their opinion.

BESHEAR: I think it's fun. I think these guys are very innovative, and they're attracting a lot of attention for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. So I urge them on in all of their innovative thinking.

ANGEL: Officially, Kentucky's sticking with Unbridled Spirit, but VanMeter and Hiler were able to sit down and discuss their 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. For NPR News, I'm Brenna Angel in Lexington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.