An Open Letter From A Member of A Non-Existent Constituency to Patrick Stipes of Kentucky Tourism

Lexington, KY - Mr. Stipes: I’m sure you’ve been inundated with responses to your comments in USA Today about the “Kentucky Kicks Ass” rebranding effort, in which you seemingly dismissed an effort by a group named Kentucky for Kentucky to promote the commonwealth in a unique way. Your quote has been called “tone deaf,” among other things, in local media, and while I don’t disagree, I understand how you might feel this is an issue of propriety.

For instance, I can certainly understand how this new “slogan” might upset a more conservative segment of the population. I would understand the reluctance of a great many Kentuckians to accept such an indelicate phrase as a state motto, and rightly so. It’s also understandable that the official Kentucky Tourism department would keep a measured distance from such an effort.

What I can’t really understand, I suppose, is the final sentence of your quote, where you suggested that, for this “Kentucky Kicks Ass” rebranding, there is a constituency of “no one.” What I don’t understand about it is not that you said it to USA Today, but that you could even think that at all. We need to think demographically about who we want to attract and for what purposes, and if you believe that there is no constituency for this type of branding, I’m worried that reflects a myopic and frustratingly out-of-date school of thought. With that in mind, I’d like to explain why I believe you’re incorrect about the “constituency.”

The constituency to which you refer is likely larger than you think, and it’s a formidable demographic. I say that because I’m squarely in the center of it. I’m in my mid-thirties, an avid user of social media, a homeowner, a parent and a member of a generation accustomed to an edgier, grittier and more irreverent form of culture. I’m well-educated, I’m settling into a career, and I’ve purchased a house. To borrow a phrase, I’m in my “acquiring years.” I’m looking to truly grow roots in a place and take my young family on vacations, and nothing about our current state branding has any appeal to me on either front. I want culture, liveliness and a proud community, and the milquetoast motto “Unbridled Spirit” has nothing for me. Alternatively, this new attempt at branding Kentucky appeals to me and my ilk on several levels.

First and foremost, it certainly appeals to my sense of humor. I’m a fan of wit and irreverence, and the Internet has spawned an ironic culture that transcends what used to be traditional generational divides.

Secondly, it appeals on an artistic level, since it isn’t just a motto – there’s also a creative force behind it that is ready-made for social media and popular culture. I can’t wait to get a t-shirt or a poster from a lovingly created and beautiful selection. Add to that hats, bumper stickers and what could be an endless supply of branded paraphernalia, all created with an emphasis on art and ironic humor, begging to be snatched up and disseminated throughout the nation.

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