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One of my oldest friends is a middle-school guidance counselor, so she excels at offering comforting advice to downtrodden teens. "Everybody starts somewhere," she tells one who flubs a math exam or another who failed to make the JV cheerleading squad. 

It’s equally good advice for brands and organizations that find themselves floundering in new media waters, like the State of Kentucky and Nutella, brands whose stumbles Tom Fishburne analyzed at Integrated Marketing Week last month.

The CEO of Marketoon Studios, who reeled off numerous real-life examples during his keynote, contrasted the two with the Philippines, which produced a campaign more suited to today’s marketing environment.

Said Fishburne:

It’s a real shift from the model of marketing where the brand manager owns the brand to ultimately where the consumer owns the brand. Marketers who accept and enable and amplify this will do phenomenally well.

So where did Kentucky and Nutella fail and the Philippines succeed?

An ass-kicking unbridled 

The State of Kentucky, home of green, rolling hills where one may sip bourbon, smell air fragrant with growing tobacco, and speak in a drawling accent of horse races, rebranded in 2004. Its $500,000 project resulted in the tagline, “Kentucky: Unbridled Spirit.”

I’m no copywriter, but I work with words and my professional opinion of that tagline? Meh. Kentucky natives Griffin VanMeter and Whit Hiler, two suits in advertising creative, took greater offense and began their own campaign to rebrand the state last winter, giving us…”Kentucky Kicks Ass.”  

The slogan’s punchy, irreverent, and was wholly unpopular with the State. Pat Stipes, state tourism department spokesperson, described the duo’s effort as appealing to “a different constituency. Which is no one.”

The Internet relishes a smackdown, of course, and VanMeter and Hiler fired back. 

Guess which campaign drew the attention of media outlets NPR, USA Today, and no less than Conan O’Brien?

So, despite the fact that Kentucky Kicks Ass has 5,982 fewer Facebook “likes” (time to revisit metrics, hmmm?), the campaign has drawn greater attention, and higher-ups have softened their stance. As Kentucky governor Steve Beshear told NPR,

They probably have a pretty good constituency...and they’re attracting a lot of attention, good attention…So I urge them on in all of their innovative thinking.

A nut job or the campaign that wasn’t

“More nuts in company management than in every jar,” wrote one indignant fan about Nutella, owned by Ferrero. The post was published on the Facebook wall of World Nutella Day, an indie creation of blogger Sara Rosso, who deemed the holiday in 2007.

The movement caught on, and today the Facebook page has almost 41,000 passionate fans. Some brands would kill for that kind of grassroots love, but Nutella sent Rosso a cease-and-desist letter in April, prompting outrage among its fanbase. (There was an audible gasp from the roomful of marketers when Fishburne shared this tidbit, btw.)

The predictable firestorm caused the brand to backpedal, and Nutella, which had demanded that Rosso take down her site Nutelladay.com, worked out an agreement with the unofficial brand ambassador. In a statement Nutella made later, the brand said,

The case arose from a routine brand defense procedure that was activated as a result of some misuse of the Nutella brand on the fan page.

“Routine brand defense procedure”? This isn’t the first—nor will it be the last—instance of a consumer expressing love (or, in the case of United and Dave Maxwell, hatred) for a brand. Businesses should by now anticipate similar cases and learn how to roll with the punches.

More fun, more ROI

Compare, then, another tourism campaign: “It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” the brainchild of BBDO Guerrero | Proximity Philippines. With this effort, the public was invited to define for themselves what constitutes fun, upload their image of it, and share it with the world.

On January 6, the hashtag #ItsMoreFunInThePhilippines became the top trending topic globally, and the meme made it onto Buzzfeed two days later.

Even a submission that IDed cockfighting as a good time was allowed airtime. Said Fishburne about the brand managers,

They recognized that they couldn’t control the message, and ultimately this created a 20 percent tourism boost.

We don’t have to have total anarchy,” he continued. “We can channel, embrace, and accept our advocates.”

Given these three examples, brands would be well-advised to rethink their relationship with their public(s) and loosen their iron grip on the idea that they still have an iron grip. Everybody starts somewhere.

Cielo Lutino

Published 2 July, 2013 by Cielo Lutino

Cielo Lutino is a writer and producer for Econsultancy and other organizations. 

32 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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Kevin Leversee

It all comes back to the Cluetrain Manifesto - Markets are Conversations, these conversations are held by people who recognize each other by the sound tone and inflection of voice. Businesses do not talk like people they are new and improved, 20% more and less filling.

People are at the center of everything, their desire is the purpose of action and conversation. Their trusted social nets (not just online tools) are where they share their human stories about experiences.

People are not talking about brands per se but about human experience.

over 3 years ago

Maria Ahmed

Maria Ahmed, SEO Specialist at UC4 Limited

Brilliaint post Cielo! This is a great boost for the small business owners- a reminder that no one is perfect and that even the smallest idea can garner a massive boost in business is a fantastic thing to keep in mind.

over 3 years ago

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