Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Old Kentucky Home

Despite the best efforts of state government and various marketing agencies, Kentucky continues to have an image problem.  Thanks to its agrarian past, its association with Appalachian mining culture, hillbillies, white lightning, mullets (a.k.a. the Kentucky Waterfall) and (thanks to no state vehicle inspection) some of the most decrepit looking cars you will ever see, Kentucky lately has been identified more closely with its negative attributes, not its positive ones. 

Governments come and go in the state capitol in Frankfort, but every administration is tasked with raising Kentucky's national stature.  Millions of dollars have been spent in the attempt to rebrand Kentucky, to shed it of the hillbilly stereotype, but perceptions die hard.  The state (actually, commonwealth) still is trying to find a  slogan that resonates with Kentuckians and broadcasts to the world what Kentucky is all about.  Previous attempts have included:
  •  “Education Pays”
  • “Think Kentucky”
  • “Open For Business”
  • “It’s That Friendly”
Unfortunately, the genius who signed off on "It's That Friendly" must have  just immigrated to this country from Croatia because everyone else knows that Kentucky jokingly is associated with interfamilial relations.  The slogan was meant to link Kentucky to southern hospitality but instead opened the floodgates to a fresh round of jokes about incest.

Epic Fail. 

Probably should have done a marketing survey before trotting that one out.

The current slogan is "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" and was adopted after a statewide vote in 2004.  According to, the state's official website,  the purpose of this branding effort is "to boost Kentucky’s image, make it consistent through all the ways we reach people, and help Kentucky stand out from the crowd. We want visitors, business people, clients of our services and residents alike to get a clear, memorable and positive impression of Kentucky from their first contact." 

What is the one thing for which Kentucky is indisputably famous?  Thoroughbred horses.  So, instead of the laughable "Education Pays" (when every statistic shows that Kentucky ranks near the bottom in education), the state linked its image to the one thing (besides college basketball and bourbon whiskey) for which it is known. It appears to be working. 

According to information taken from, “'Kentucky Unbridled Spirit’s'” brand awareness and appeal is strong throughout the region. Awareness of “Kentucky Unbridled Spirit” brand averaged 64% among customers across the 10 states tested and averaged higher than every other state brand tested in the study. Kentucky’s branding campaign has also improved most people’s perception of Kentucky. Descriptions of Kentucky are nearly universally positive and largely include words such as 'pretty country,' 'beautiful,' 'good/ great place to live or visit,' 'horses,' and 'lots of things to do or see.'”

So, after many years of effort, it looks as though Kentucky is getting some traction in its attempt to change the perception that the rest of the country has about it.  

And then this story makes national news and Kentucky's rehabilitated image takes a bomb right down the smokestack:

Never in all of my research into various forms of antagonism have I ever heard of a man being forced to eat his own beard.  Maybe this will be our next slogan: "Kentucky: Creative Abuse". 

Because this is an attention-grabbing headline, of course this news went viral. Searching Google with  "ky man forced to eat own beard" turns up 393,000 results.  A YouTube search using variations of the same search terms turns up hundreds of hits, including several versions of the victim's interview set to music.  Here's the original video:

There is a version of this story set to "Dueling Banjos."  There is another version, entitled "Just Eat It," set to Michael Jackson's "Beat It."  There are remixed and mashed-up versions. The hilarity just doesn't stop. All at Kentucky's expense.

Now, just as this has about run its course and the hecklers are about to move on to news from Mississippi or Arkansas, we get this breaking story today:

Aside from the incredible irony that the driver of the car was a very un-chaste woman named Chastity who was on an epic bender–driving under the influence, transporting a controlled substance, carrying a concealed deadly weapon, and driving for the second time on a suspended license–does this story call to mind anything?  No ?  Well, read the first comment that was respectfully submitted by sympathetic reader "Cheddarpants".

Where's the respect for the deceased?  National Lampoon's Vacation? (the Holiday Road reference for anyone who can't instantly recall the 1983 movie)  Weekend at Bernie's?

Here we go again.

Someone once said that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  Are we sure about that?