K-Swiss has made bold use of viral marketing by releasing the latest in a series of videos featuring Kenny Powers, the main character of HBO’s Eastbound and Down, played by Danny McBride. While this is not the first K-Swiss Kenny Powers video from Los Angeles-based marketing agency, 72 and Sunny, it has already made the biggest splash.
Kenny Powers was first introduced as the newest endorser of K-Swiss in August 2010. In the latest installment, Kenny has been promoted to CEO by acquiring 51% of K-Swiss stock, and he has some new ideas regarding how to sell K-Swiss Tubes. Most of his thoughts include a four-letter word that rhymes with “luck”. To be exact, the 4:58 video features 18 F-bombs, among a few other choice words new to the marketing lexicon.
You heard right – that was an F-bomb every 16.5 seconds. The Internet has been emboldening people to say and do things they would never do in person since the mid-90’s, but it seems this courage has finally made its way to mainstream brands. Having surpassed the 100,000 views milestone in under 48 hours, K-Swiss’ Kenny Powers video seems to have struck a chord with the market. As further evidence, the video currently has 2,330 likes compared to only 26 dislikes on YouTube.
Whether these numbers translate to sales is yet to be seen, but this reach and feedback indicate that this daring style of marketing is working with K-Swiss’ targeted audience; presumably tech-savvy youth with disposable income and time. As of last year, K-Swiss earned 2% of the global athletic footwear market share compared to 31% won by market leader, Nike.
Nike, who recently unveiled a similarly controversial campaign targeting young athletes, has received a great deal of backlash from the media, parents, and politicians, alike. Nike’s apparel-based promotion featured shirts with drug innuendos printed on them such as “Get High” and “Dope” (with an image of a spilling pill container). Understandably, the public is much less approving of implied drug use than it is of F-bomb-laced comedy, but I think the fact the K-Swiss Kenny Powers video is online compared to Nike’s offline (and tangible) products are softening the harshness of the content.
Nike will likely be forced to discontinue support of their edgy marketing, while K-Swiss seems to have found a sweet-spot with the Kenny Powers videos that is garnering largely positive global attention. This scenario is teaching us two valuable lessons.
First, market-leaders should tread lightly in edgy waters. Nike has moved their brand to the top by being known for offering the most reliable and innovative athletic products. Why would they even risk that perception by targeting a niche audience with gimmicky apparel? I have a tough time picturing commercials with Steve Jobs telling me to “buy a ****ing iPad” or Bill Gates telling me that “Windows is the ****”. When you’re already on top, don’t stoop.
Second, if you are a niche brand with much less to lose, one way to cut through the Internet clutter and grow your brand awareness is to release unexpected and “remark”-able content – even if it means challenging existing marketing schemas. For brands targeting a younger market, executing these campaigns online comes with the built in advantage of reaching your audience where they spend most of their time.
With the ever-growing demand for consumers’ ever-shrinking attention, smaller brands will be forced to take note of these clutter-cutting marketing attempts.
Kenny Powers said it himself, he’s “turning **** on its god**** head.”
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