Pushing the Limits of Your Brand

Pushing the Limits of Your Brand

Business sense 101 tells us that brands are sacred and that we should do everything possible to protect them. That obviously means different things to different companies, but one thing that most would probably agree on is that they’d be a little apprehensive in going down the same road as shoe company, K-Swiss. You may have seen their previous  campaign with Danny McBride in his Eastbound and Down persona, Kenny Powers. This month, they’re going another round  with another short film and even more celebrity star power including NFL quarterback Matt Cassel, Biggest Loser alum Jillian Michaels, Transformers Director Michael Bay and MMA champ Jon Bones.


I’m a huge fan of HBO’s Eastbound and Down. Kenny Powers has become a cult favorite and the show has catapulted McBride’s career. What surprises me is the K-Swiss side of this equation. There are two-dozen things in this commercial that people could find offensive. How did K-Swiss get to the place internally that they felt good about green-lighting this concept? Would you see another lifestyle shoe company go this route – Nike? Converse? Adidas? Highly unlikely. In fact, let’s take it out of the clothing world – can you imagine Google’s agency pitching this concept to them?


Clearly K-Swiss felt they were in a position to take a controlled risk. Their sales are not what they used to be and they’re hardly a marquee player in the lifestyle brand arena. Clearly somebody felt that stirring things up and causing some controversy couldn’t hurt their position. It should also be mentioned that this was their second campaign with Kenny Powers. If the first one had blown up in their face we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. It’s always easier to push the limits once you’ve tested the waters.


There’s no doubt that this has been a stroke of creative genius in reviving a flailing brand, but how do you gauge the right fit for your clients? What makes K-Swiss a good fit, but Nike not? What stops me from writing a blog post for my clients with curse words, penis humor and pictures of half-naked women in it? Well, besides the obvious answer of “common sense,” I think it’s more nuanced than that.  You have to really know your client and understand their identity. What lifestyle are they trying to project? What are the values of the brand? Where is their comfort level around using humor, profanity and sexuality?  Where do they currently sit in their particular vertical’s food chain? A brand that is stagnant or on the way down may be more likely to take a risk than one that is perched at the top.


Most of us wouldn’t feel comfortable playing this video at work for fear of someone hearing it and taking offense, let alone would we pitch this idea to our boss. What would you have done if you were on the K-Swiss ad team? Would you have been bold enough to take this risk or would you have played it safe? I’d love to get your feedback in the comments.