By Ben Lies, MBA Class of 2012

Last year, K-Swiss introduced a new advertising campaign that is, well, unorthodox to say the least. The shoe company has completely distanced itself from political correctness and a focus on spokesperson “role models.” Instead, the company enlisted the egocentric, foul-mouthed, bad boy, fictional character and star of the HBO series Eastbound and Down, Kenny Powers (played by Danny Mcbride) to be the face of the campaign and of K Swiss shoes.

In the debut of this campaign, the crude yet magnetic Kenny Powers was simply a spokesperson appearing alongside real K-Swiss Athletes to promote the brand. The brashness of this campaign is overwhelmingly evident right from the start. In the first video, Powers is in a meeting with K-Swiss Executives complaining about an underwhelming encounter he had with a transgendered prostitute. Although some may consider this campaign to be distasteful and crude, the success it experienced speaks for itself. Some of the campaign’s stats are listed below:

  • The videos have received millions of views online, including one million on FunnyorDie alone
  • Resulted in a 1256% increase in Facebook fans
  • Landed K-Swiss atop the “biggest buzz” list in the industry trade Footwear News
  • K-Swiss reported a 250% increase in online sales after the campaign was launched

Because of the campaigns success, Fastcocreate and countless other marketing blog outlets have covered the story.

The incredible success of the debut campaign spawned a second campaign that is just as raunchy as the first, but instead of just a spokesperson Kenny Powers is now portrayed as the MFCEO. For those of you who may not be familiar with the famed Kenny Powers take a look at the video and you will become quickly aware of what the MF stands for.

This video instantly went viral. According to Viral Blog, the spot experienced 500,000 views in its first 10 days. The real genius behind this campaign is not only the viral video, but the fact that it is a completely integrated campaign featuring clips, print, a microsite, billboards, social media, mobile, and events. (see campaign creative agency 72andSunny for details and examples).

The website, social media, and mobile advertising are built to engage customers, and not just merely expose them to the ads. The platforms feature soundboards, ringtones, videos, sweepstakes, and of course instant ability to purchase the shoes online. Apart from being a fully integrated campaign, it also was used as a three way co-branding vehicle to promote not only K-Swiss but also Eastbound and Down and Danny Mcbride – an up and coming actor who started his own production company, Rough House Pictures.

These two online campaigns featuring Kenny Powers have been so overwhelmingly successful that, according to sharethrough.com, K-Swiss is launching a third campaign to coincide with the third and final season of Eastbound and Down. I guess all we can do is sit back and wait to see what kind of antics the MFCEO of K-Swiss embarks on next.

Questions for Discussion

Interactive customer engagement is becoming more and more important as our web browsers, and lives, get filled with an increasing amount of clutter and distractions. Do you think that the amount of customer engagement this campaign offers is enough? Do you think they could do more? if so what?

As branding goes K-Swiss may be taking a risk using a spokesperson like Kenny Powers. How do you think this campaign will affect the brand’s image in the eyes of its customers? Will it be positive or negative in the long term? Do you feel this may be a re-branding attempt? Why?

This campaign has attempted to utilize mobile platforms to reach its customers. Do you think that mobile advertising is appropriate for this type of campaign? Because it is a primarily video-based campaign, do you think mobile use will create frustration amongst the audience?  Is there a platform that would be more appropriate? why? (Visit 72andsunny for an example of the mobile platform advertising)

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Comments
  1. This does seem like a re-brand to me. Even though K-Swiss started off making tennis shoes, more recent advertising campaigns have attempted to establish K-Swiss as a fashion brand with an urban appeal. Using Kenny Powers as their new spokesperson not only draws attention to the brand using the shock value of the character, but it also reestablishes K-Swiss as an athletic shoe.

    • Ben Lies says:

      I couldn’t agree more with you mark. It seems as though they are trying to ditch the country club, upscale type brand position of the past and appeal to a wider audience while diving more heavily into the athletic shoe market.

  2. Paul Quiring says:

    I love it. Watching the same old ads and tactics is tiresome and noneffective. The political INcorrectness is where the appeal lies for me. I like the show so I’m not an objective opinion, but I can’t recall too many other K-Swiss campaigns before this one. Not to mention rarely seeing their shoes on anyone. In an athletic shoe market dominated by the big players, it might take something like this to set them apart, and apparently it has been successful so I’m glad to see them sticking with it.

    • Ben Lies says:

      It is the same for me Paul. I cant stand watching the same boring old ads, and this campaign is definitely not boring. It grabs your attention and you almost forget that its and ad. Its more like watching a mini movie or comedy sketch but in every video they mention K-Swiss and the style of shoes so many times that it really sticks in your head. I think I want to buy a pair of tubes now. 🙂 I know these ads are extremely effective but I would be interested to hear your thoughts on how this campaign will effect their brand image over the long term. Do you think they have associated themselves with a passing fad?

  3. This was a great video: entertaining, shocking, and I loved the reference to “Land of the Lost” with the “perfect woman” cup. I believe that this video is a great way to gain a large segment in a fast manner. These are the types of videos that are easily shared and liked by many.

    In the long term though I believe that a large portion of the market is left out. This video would be seen as majorly offensive to many. It has moments of sexism, violence, sexuality and obvious offensive language. This could put a lot of negative attention towards K-Swiss and may be overall bad for the communication of their brand values.

    • Ben Lies says:

      You make an excellent point Colin. The long term effects of this campaign have yet to be seen.. Just playing devils advocate here but although it is without a doubt offensive do you think that people tend to look past it because Kenny Powers is a fictional character? I find it to be an incredibly interesting behavioral case study. If Kenny Powers was a real person K-Swiss would be slaughtered for using him as a spokesperson but since he is not, people seem to find it funny and attention catching instead of offensive. Its almost like they have found the perfect balance to get away with saying whatever they want. What are your thoughts on it?

      • Ashley Folsom says:

        Jumping in on this- I agree with what both Collin and Ben say on this. Because K-Swiss utilizes a fictional character, it makes it almost a “mockumentary”? so to speak.

        I know some people that wear the Plain white K-Swiss Tennis show, and these would definitely not appeal to them…however- they like K-Swiss’s line because of their basic and bright white product line. For launching into a more colorful demographic, K-Swiss HAS to re-brand at least a new product line (like the tubes) in order to grasp another target market.
        Notice they are ONLY utilizing the Tubes line in this and not ALL K-Swiss product lines in this marketing attempt- I think that’s to appeal to a different demographic they may have had little to no market share in. Think of any football team and how they train? Usually listening to Scream-o and Hard Metal…it’s what they associate with “pushing themselves to the extreme.” This marketing campaign targets just that.

        Personally- I think if K-Swiss is able to maintain both almost a complete separate entity for their Tubes product line vs. their Bright white Tennies- They may be able to pull it off long term.

        However- if their other product line demographics get wind of this change in additional product positioning, K-Swiss may be facing a complete re-brand of the company, and may have to faze out their bright whites.

    • Lucas Jukkala says:

      I missed the Land of the Lost reference. Good call.

  4. Kumar Phillips says:

    I agree with everyone else. The Kenny Powers re-branding is great. In a world dominated by Nike and Adidas, K-Swiss really needed to do something that would distinguish themselves from the competition. We see ads over and over again highlighting features of products all the time so it was refreshing to see K-Swiss do something unexpected to make their brand name stand out. I know that I’m probably going to remember Kenny Powers and K-Swiss Tubes next time I see a K-Swiss logo at a mall. This strategy may be offensive to some, but I definitely think that a majority of the people who see this series of videos will remember K Swiss, regardless of whether or not they like the videos. To me, that’s a huge gain for K Swiss.

  5. Juli Bowen says:

    I completely agree with you Ashley, I think that they are trying to grab a new market. I also think that a lot of younger people used to wear K-Swiss, and now they’re older, and they haven’t captured the “new” younger generation. It was cool to wear them 10-15 years ago but not now. They need to capture the “new” younger generation, and as a member of it I feel comfortable saying this is the type of entertainment and advertising we like. It’s funny and offensive, what more could we want? We are somewhat of a crass generation (other more so than some obviously) and I think this works well.
    Again, I don’t think this should be used for ALL K-Swiss products but definitely for the Tubes line. I’m sure in another 10-15 years they’ll have to do something similar in that they’ll need to recapture the next generation of potential K-Swiss consumers.

    • Ben Lies says:

      Ashley and Juli I think you guys both make an excellent point. My question to you is how long do you think they can keep their product branding separate? It seems to me that eventually their will be some residual effects on the brand as a whole, I guess the question is do you guys feel it will be a good thing or a bad thing? How do you feel it will effect the sales of their other lines?

      • Juli Bowen says:

        I think that they can probably keep they’re product branding pretty well separated for a while. I’m sure that eventually there will be residual effects of it but I feel like the new followers of K-Swiss will probably outweigh the ones lost. My mom is the typical white shoes, K-Swiss wearer. She isn’t exactly on the internet watching videos of Kenny Powers or watching the show itself. She will most likely never even know about this entire thing. She’ll still be wearing her white K-Swiss shoes and be perfectly happy with them. Now, I’m not saying that ALL of K-Swiss’s traditional market won’t see this but I feel like a lot won’t. I think overall it’s a good thing because while they may lose some customers, they will most likely gain more.
        As for effecting sales of the other lines I really can’t say whether it will go up or down. They could lose sales of the other lines but maybe some of us from the younger generation want to wear shoes from the other lines instead of the Tubes line, who knows? But the video brought me in and then I’ll just buy whichever shoe I like best.

    • Peter Robinson says:

      I think it’s interesting how all three parties are benefiting from this campaign: K-Swiss is obviously generating millions of impressions, but HBO also gets to promote the new season of Eastbound and Down. This also has to be great for McBride himself, adding to the “star on the rise” momentum that he will no doubt leverage into a sucessful film career. I’m curious about the details that went into this arrangement, which is much different than the traditional endorsement model.

  6. Jing Guo says:

    I think it is definitely a re-branding. The new campaign attracts young generation and more broad audience to K-Swiss. Also, It is interesting to see the effect that this campaign creates, because all the things this ad involves are quiet inappropriate. All these topics are rarely to see in ads but they put in and make huge positive outcomes. I can’t imagine all these inappropriate things appear in China and become popular, but I believe there should be more innovative campaigns no matter where. U.S definitely is the pioneer in advertising, and I like ads that make you laugh and also deliver good value to you. K-Swiss is trying to deliver its new athletic shoes to consumers in a creative and special way. It has the short-term effects, but in long-term there is still need to measure. Their marketing plan seems to do its job in this short period, but there still is evaluation process. In the long term, K-Swiss needs to find more good values and tasteful sense to remain its consumers and fans because consumers like something new and being new doesn’t mean it will last long.

  7. Lucas Jukkala says:

    I have never seen a K-Swiss product that I have liked… That being said, I may never buy another brand again.

    I think it’s funny as hell, and obviously a big risk for K-Swiss, but I wonder if this will effect Patrick Willis’ or Matt Cassel’s ability to get other endorsement deals.

    Good find. I hope you don’t mind if I share this with everyone I’ve ever known.

  8. Nazanin Aghaeian says:

    This is a very unique and different commercial which will differentiate K-Swiss from all of its competitors. It seems like this is very different from anything that I have seen related to K-Swiss. This could be taken positive or negative depending on the viewers opinion. I think that this is a step in the direction of rebranding because it is so different from their past messages.

  9. Amanda says:

    It looks like its a re-branding strategy for K-Swiss. Its a very unique approach to it but sometimes with all the ads we are exposed to, we need a little shock factor to wake us up to pay attention to what is being shown to us. I think by using Kenny Powers, they are trying to appeal to a younger audience and by having this ad go viral so quick, you know it has to be reaching its target audience and being passed around to all their friends.

  10. Chris Grim says:

    It seems like that by using Kenny Powers as their spokes person, K-Swiss is trying to shed their preppy, pretty boy image, and establish themselves as a cool, and edgy. Instead of fitting into a certain mold by wearing K-Swiss, they can reach a larger market with their new branding strategy.

  11. I don’t think that using Kenny Powers is in any way destroying the brand image. K-Swiss is already known as a wannabe cool shoe company, which fits Kenny Powers’ persona on East Bound and Down. K-Swiss needed the re-branding badly, I thought this campaign was hilarious. KP being the MFCEO is a great move, and it will definitely reach the target market.

  12. Shawn Roberts says:

    This campaign is freaking awesome! Good for K-Swiss for reinventing themselves with an original take on athletic apparel and the sports world in general. The introduction of ‘dumb ass’ Kenny Powers as MFCEO is possibly the furthest thing I would expect from a tennis shoe company, however the shock value of crude comedy has undoubtably been effective in drawing attention to an otherwise declining brand. As Chris pointed out, the campaign is an attempt to shed the ‘pretty boy’ image the brand has held for the last two decades, for a new, improved bad boy persona. By not being seen as a prep-brand, K-Swiss can actually expand their interested market. Although I will admit to being a huge fan of this campaign, and also owning a pair of K-Swiss around 5th grade, the respectable effort of the company here, has not yet swayed me to trade in my Nike’s for a pair of Swisses. 😉

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