Katie Edmondson
Katie Edmondson
Assistant Editor

Kenny Mother-F**king Powers Shakes Up the World of Training Shoes

Kenny Powers - New K-Swiss CEOThe world of athlete sponsorship has long been dominated by sweaty men and women exercising in slow motion. K-Swiss is taking a different approach to brand storytelling in their attempt to get into the training shoe market. And that approach is Kenny Powers.

Kenny Powers, played by Danny McBride, is a fictional character on the HBO series “Eastbound and Down” known for his aggressive behavior and incessant cursing. Not quite the typical mascot for a company. But K-Swiss is proving that they don’t like to do things by the books. The campaign debuted last year with a 4-minute video for Funny or Die (NSFW) in which Powers negotiates with a roomful of K-Swiss executives for an endorsement deal with K-Swiss Tubes. After buying 51% of K-Swiss stock, Mr. Powers has a new position—Mother F**king CEO—and their latest extended length commercial, just like Kenny, is like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Just a fair warning: This video is definitely NSFW. The videos are laced with profanity, misogyny, violence, and general debauchery – all the ingredients of a viral YouTube video garnering well over a million views. They do have a SFW version, however to no one’s surprise it’s only attracted less than 50,000 views.

While we here at Post-Advertising have thoroughly enjoyed these videos, it’s understandable that many people will find the campaign offensive. K-Swiss is not deluding themselves into thinking that Kenny Powers is a mascot for the masses. In a smart move, K-Swiss has created an alternative Kenny Powers version of their main website , which further establishes the connection between the character and the company without completely jumping ship on their former image. The Powers version opens with a fiery explosion (were you expecting anything less?). The design is dark and menacing, but with an air of sarcasm and self-mockery. Buttons for men’s clothing change to “Bros,” “Privacy Policy” becomes “Boring” and “Register” becomes “Sign the F Up.” This is a unique way of entertaining their target audience – athletic college students and young people – while not losing their other customers like those who rely on K-Swiss for their pure white tennis shoes.

In placing so much stock in Kenny Powers, K-Swiss aligned with HBO. They have not watered down the character at all, which gives them credibility among fans. In fact, the brand agency responsible for the new campaign – 72andSunny – has loaned out one of their writers to “Eastbound and Down” for its new season. The mutually beneficial relationship aims to drive viewership to the HBO program while attracting KP fans to K-Swiss.

Matt Murphy, Creative Director for 72andSunny told WIRED, “We didn’t want to just attach the brand to Kenny, but build a relationship over time.” With hilarious original content and a tie-in with a popular television show, this relationship could prove to be long-standing.

The campaign definitely gets our Post-Advertising stamp of approval. It’s unique, entertaining, shareable, and stretches across multiple media channels. But what do you think? Will K-Swiss’s use of Kenny Powers ultimately help or hinder the brand? What other brands have used an anti-hero as their spokesman?

  • http://www.hanelly.com hanelly

    Great write-up. Good to see a post talking about this that goes beyond “hey look at this video it’s crazy right!?”

    I have two reactions to this gutsy campaign from K-Swiss:
    1. Awesome. As a consumer of entertainment, I can’t get enough of it. You can’t look away from the screen when Kenny Powers is on it. He’s one of the most provocative personalities since Sacha Baron Cohen’s triumvirate of inappropriateness and he’s wildly entertaining. If you’re in the right demographic. Which brings me to my second reaction:

    2. Is this right for K-Swiss? Prior to this campaign, I would have told you that K-Swiss was a bit of a stiff brand, sort of “classic,” and for people who cared about their shoes staying white and matching other articles of clothing they were currently wearing. In other words: not for me. This is a tremendous leap in a different direction with a new target customer. Maybe abandoning their old image will come back to haunt them, or maybe it’ll pull off exactly what they wanted to achieve. Either way, it’s messaging that gets attention, provides value in the form of entertainment, and is clearly getting media coverage.

    But will that make a new generation of people buy K-Swiss? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps more importantly: will it make an old generation of people *stop* buying K-Swiss?

  • Anonymous

    Hannelly,

    Thanks for the props on the article! I had a similar reaction when I first saw the video. It is definitely hilarious, but I was concerned that it might receive a more negative response from their older customers. That being said, I thought it was a pretty genius idea to create a separate website for its Tubes shoes (the only product that Kenny Powers is specifically hawking.) Older consumers may not be as hip to the viral videos and may barely notice K-Swiss’s new spokesman because he doesn’t dominate their homepage. The old website is still completely functional, and full of more typical athletic imagery that appeals to a more traditional market. K-Swiss is trying to get the best of both worlds in their marketing and, so far, it looks like they are succeeding. 

  • http://www.postadvertising.com Jon Thomas

    I definitely agree with #1. 

    As for #2, whether it’s right or wrong for them is up to how they want their story to be told. I can’t claim to have ever been interested in purchasing a pair of K-Swiss, and used to picture the brand as a preppy, niche brand (only used in tennis). However the characters they’ve currently aligned with couldn’t be more opposite of that stereotype (they have their own stereotypes). 

    It’s certainly not endearing them to their legacy fans that liked the upscale, tennis whites. But maybe they realized that those fans could only take them so far, and there may be an opportunity to take an approach so over the top that any other brand that tried it would only be imitating, not duplicating. 

    I don’t know these answers and I’m not footwear expert, but I like where they’re going so far.

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  • Marc

    Great article – particularly the insight into 72andSunny’s new relationship with the show.

    It’s definitely interesting to think that we’ve been seeing branding intricately threaded into franchise storylines. Last year (and this one) we saw Avion Tequila play a major role in the storyline of HBO’s Entourage. In this case, it wasn’t a big idea of an agency but rather the friendship of Entourage’s creator and Avion’s founder, but none the less I can’t imagine that it it wasn’t a spark in 72andSunny’s mind to start these deeper tie-ins.

    Back in 2001-2002 when TiVo was just getting up to speed – commercial skipping had us worried that we’d have to work harder as marketers to engrain brand messaging into a show’s storyline. Probably why the reality TV model became so popular for networks – the tie-ins were natural, “Your new kitchen is brought to you by our friends at Sears” But it was always a challenge to be subtle in storyline driven TV content  to weave a product in… I guess we’ve moved to the “why be subtle stage”. I guess it’s not so bad when it’s this funny.