Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Kenny Powers Means for The Future of Advertising

By now you've seen him, the brash, arrogant and hilarious Kenny Powers, new spokesman for K-Swiss athletic footwear. Kenny berates, cajoles, swears a blue streak and promotes K-Swiss "Tubes" like they were the most innovative product since canned ham. Kenny is of course the creation of Danny McBride and the main character on McBride's HBO series Eastbound and Down.

Brash and arrogant spokesmen are nothing new. There is in fact a glut of them at present. They are over-the-top confident, beyond macho to the point of wink-wink caricatures. Most Interesting Man, Old Spice Guy, Keith Stone, the smug asshole who does the stand-ups for another shaving cream, the name of which escapes me. Even DQ is in on the act. The Fabio vs. Old Spice Guy manufactured "war" commencing today on behalf of Old Spice is an example of taking it way too far. The fact that I'm aware of this stunt shames me. Full disclosure: I myself created a character about a year ago named Ronnie Reed, a redneck landscaper with no shortage of confidence, and also multiple children by various women. (He's still looking for a gig, so call me, John Deere.)

K-Swiss is taking it beyond over-the-top to a different place, a place where we all live. In short, they allow swearing. And not just swearing of the mild variety. This is Kenny Powers type swearing; prolific, masterful and again, hilarious. The TV commercials for McBride's K-Swiss videos are toned down, but what makes this campaign so different is the willingness on the part of K-Swiss to embrace the full power of the Powers character, as seen in this "uncensored" video.

I think this represents a major shift in the culture of advertising. I can't think of another brand that has gone to this length to embrace and reflect the current comedic trend. Not that cussing is new in comedy, but surely you've noticed that the network censors are a little less stringent these days with what gets bleeped and what remains. (I think I heard the word "dick" on a network show not long ago.)

If a brand tried this approach a decade ago there would be boycotts, backlash and instant resignations, followed by a rapid descent in sales. Today, I think the opposite is true. I don't have sales figures to back that claim up, but maybe a commenter can come along with some data. If nothing else, the videos are a hit. K-Swiss has broken ground here and allowed itself to be associated with the strange and funny cultural phenomenon that is Kenny Powers. I hope other brands don't see this success and try to copy it. They will though. A decade from now this approach will be mainstream.

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  • Beats product placement. That style of character comedy is universal in that what is being pitched is irrelevant, as are features and benefits of the product. I think we're deep in zone where the purchaser's brand statement, the wink and irony, is really the main benefit for more and more things in the marketplace, almost to scary and uncomfortable level.

    By Anonymous everysandwich, at July 26, 2011 at 9:45 AM  

  • Tangentially related to something you pointed out: when the hell did “douche” become a commonplace insult on prime time? Try explaining that term to your eight-year old without feeling deeply uncomfortable.

    By Blogger Andy Jukes, at July 26, 2011 at 11:47 PM  

  • Good point, Andy. That one is commonplace all of a sudden.

    By Blogger Dave, at July 27, 2011 at 6:16 AM  

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