In 1989, Nike had multiple-sport stud Bo Jackson promoting its cross-training sneakers. For K-Swiss's new "Tubes" cross-trainers, the brand currently has Kenny Powers, a foul-mouthed, partying, overweight former Major League Baseball player character on HBO's comedy "Eastbound & Down." Indeed, the advertising world has changed some in the last 21 years.
As evidenced by the "digital short" K-Swiss has been running for the last month on FunnyOrDie.com, comedy-as-branding has evolved into a key capability for modern agencies - even for workout sneakers priced around $75. Even involving an F-bomb or two.
K-Swiss's 4-minute, 25-second video (watch below) is unabashedly vulgar and hilarious to many, while featuring the Powers character and "Stevie Janowski," his sidekick on "Eastbound & Down." The two characters use a variety of profane and sexually explicit terms from the beginning to the end of the video, which has received 630,000 views. Dozens of mostly positive viewer comments have poured in since the video (below) was launched at the beginning of August.
72andSunny helped develop the K-Swiss campaign. Glenn Cole, founder of the Los Angeles-based agency, acknowledged the video's risqué nature while noting FunnyOrDie.com is targeted towards an older audience. He suggested the aim of the video and the campaign overall is to create humor and fun around the brand.
"When your message is 'Train the F Out,' Kenny Powers makes a lot of sense," Cole said in an e-mail to ClickZ. Added David Nichols, EVP for K-Swiss: "Kenny Powers is the ultimate foil to pit against high-performing athletes and high-performing Tubes product. The approach is attention-grabbing, progressive, creative and playful, which is the aim of our marketing."
Kenny Powers Gets Hijacked on Twitter
While K-Swiss and 72andSunny certainly aimed for attention-grabbing and playful when planning the campaign, they probably never imagined the games a Twitter imposter would enjoy under the guise of the "Eastbound & Down" brand.
One anonymous New York-based tweeter - who said in a New York magazine interview that he's an aspiring comedy writer - has successfully created a sizable following using the following handles for the Powers and Janowski characters: #KFUCKINGP and #SFUCKINGJ. The two accounts total more than 120,000 followers.
More importantly, the anonymous Twitter writer has tweeted profanity around the K-Swiss brand. Here is a tweet from the last month entered into each account's activity stream:
KFUCKINGP: "If I wake up & @SFUCKINGJ has more followers than me, I'm gonna fucking stick my @KSWISS Tubes up both his buttholes."
SFUCKINGJ: "I got a message for all the fans of Mr. Kenny Powers. Call 1-888-938-7544 and listen, assbloods."
The phone number in the latter tweet - authored on Aug. 8 - leads to a 1-minute prerecorded message from the Janowski character. The message is authorized by HBO/K-Swiss, and the 1-888 number has been mentioned in several advertisements. The anonymous micro-blogger simply hijacked the phone number for his tweet. The prerecorded message doesn’t include profanity while pitching the campaign’s micro-site, KennyPowers.com, and the show’s season premiere on Sept. 26.
Even though the imposter has built up a big following, the official marketing team for "Eastbound & Down" and K-Swiss doesn't embrace his activities. "The [Kenny Powers] tweets were not part of the campaign and have no association with K-Swiss or 72andSunny," Cole explained.
72andSunny couldn't confirm whether or not "Eastbound & Down" marketers had created official Twitter accounts for the Powers and Janowski characters. And ClickZ wasn't able to locate verified accounts for either character after numerous online searches.
HBO Character Helps K-Swiss Increase Facebook Presence By Almost 7X
Meanwhile, Facebook.com ads have appeared simultaneously promoting the running shoes and TV show. An app for the social site - dubbed "Workout Wingman" - was created; it enables users to let Kenny Powers respond to friends’ wall posts on their behalf.
And Kenny Power’s Facebook posts have been a bit more reserved when representing K-Swiss. Here is a post from Aug. 4: "Want me to update your Facebook page while you're out training to become a true champion? Get your ass over to the K-SWISS Workout Wingman Facebook app: http://apps.facebook.com/workoutwingman."
On Facebook, the potty-mouthed character has been a hit. K-Swiss's Facebook "likers" have increased from 12,815 to 82,500 in the last month.
Campaign Includes Display Ads, YouTube Channel, And Micro-site
The partnership by K-Swiss and HBO to promote their completely separate products in a co-branded fashion is another intriguing aspect to the campaign. For HBO, Cole explains: "The campaign remains true to who Kenny Powers is, and how he behaves, which made it appealing to HBO, Danny McBride, and ['Eastbound & Down' creator] Jody Hill alike. We didn’t dilute anything for commercial purposes."
For K-Swiss, he said, "The performance/training shoe category is flooded with competition so this campaign was an effective way to cut through the clutter and resonate with sports-minded 18- to 24-year-old guys."
At the heart of the multifaceted effort have been :15 and :30 TV spots, which were seeded in a dedicated YouTube channel. Mixed martial arts champion Urijah Faber co-starred with Kenny Powers in one of the spots, and he tweeted about the video to his 50,000 Twitter followers. NFL players Jeremy Shockey and Patrick Willis made similar appearances in the videos, and they tweeted about the videos to their Twitter audiences (88,000-plus followers combined). According to 72andSunny, Kanye West also tweeted about the videos to his 380,000 followers without being asked.
Additionally, for the last four weeks, Cole said, display ads have run on ESPN.com, MTV.com, ComedyCentral.com, AdultSwim.com, and FunnyOrDie.com. All such digital efforts have been supported by subway and outdoor ads in major markets, he said.
Lastly, visitors to the campaign micro-site have been encouraged to enter a contest where they can win the fictional character's gaudily decorated motored watercraft (see below).
It's called "The Panty Dropper."
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
March 19, 2014