Multi-league lockout threats. Sex scandals involving Perkins waitresses. Cameron Diaz hand-feeding A Rod popcorn in the stands during the Super Bowl.
The sports world has clearly gone pear shaped and Kenny Powers is looking to fix it.
Powers, the fictional star of HBO series Eastbound and Down, is back in his second campaign for K-Swiss shoes, but this time he’s not just a counterintuitive spokesperson, he’s the MFCEO (if you’ve seen the show you’ll know what the extra letters stand for. If not, give it a second).
K-Swiss and agency 72andSunny raised eyebrows last year when they debuted a campaign for K-Swiss’ new Tubes shoe fronted by the foul-mouthed, burned out pitcher character co-created and played by Danny McBride.
The campaign was notable for a few reasons, not least of which was the simple fact that a marketer was putting its brand in the hands of such a spectacularly non-aspirational (fictional) athlete. But the campaign also marked an unusual three-way co-branding exercise, simultaneously promoting Tubes, season 2 of Eastbound, which was scheduled to launch a month after the campaign broke, and a Hollywood star on the rise.
Powers’ return is an indicator of the success of that inaugural campaign, and not just as a giant Eastbound promo. The videos earned millions of views online (a million on FunnyorDie), resulted in a 1256% increase in Facebook fans and landed the brand atop the "biggest buzz" list in industry trade Footwear News. Perhaps more to the point, K-Swiss also reports a 250% increase in online sales post-Powers.
In the first campaign, Powers was introduced as the new Tubes spokesman, appearing alongside real K-Swiss athletes like MMA champ Urijah Faber and linebacker Patrick Willis. If there were any edges sanded off McBride’s standard portrayal of the Powers character, it wasn’t evident from the stunningly un-PC spots (we first see Powers in a meeting with K-Swiss execs, complaining about an unsatisfactory encounter with a transgender prostitute).
In the new campaign, which breaks today, Powers has staged a hostile takeover and is now the CEO of K-Swiss. His mission is to use that position to change the sports world and to "change the world world."
The campaign includes a five-minute film breaking on FunnyorDie, Vice and Break.com, a four-minute behind the scenes video, a series of commercials, including a 90-second spot that will debut on the ESPY Awards July 13, and other in-store and online elements, including a tie-up with Microsoft Tag that will allow viewers to access secret content. Videos are directed by Eastbound co-creator Jody Hill and produced out of Caviar Content, which reps Hill for commercials work.
All the videos depict Powers’ take on running a footwear and apparel company, which includes stocking the C suites with athletes—Faber, for example, is cast as COO, quarterback Matt Cassel as CMO, and elite marathoner Josh Cox is Chief Super Long Distance Officer. The campaign also features cameos by Michael Bay and Mark Cuban.
72andSunny president and cofounder John Boiler says the initial choice to use Powers came out of left field at the agency, and was embraced by the client with a notable lack of hand-wringing.
Though McBride, Hill, and HBO were all on board with the idea early on, it still took nearly eight months of negotiations with the cable outlet before the campaign was realized. "Getting to things like, how big is the HBO logo and how big is the tune-in message on the outdoor ad, that’s a weird piece of new math," says Boiler.
And while in an earlier ad era the gains from a star’s involvement in a brand campaign were mainly one-way (a brand paid to have a celebrity attached to its campaign as it was reaping the benefits), all parties in the Tubes campaign stood to win. The primary exchange of value in the campaign’s brand/media/celebrity equation was audience—paid and unpaid impressions for Kenny Powers and his show, delivered by K-Swiss (the campaign produced one other winner - one of the 72andSunny copywriters who was recruited by the Eastbound team to write for the third and final season of the show).
Boiler says the original campaign beat audience and impact estimates, and met less tangible goals too.
"Ultimately it’s about selling shoes; that’s a big measure," says Boiler. "But another big measure for the assignment we were given was to make K-Swiss part of the cultural conversation in sports again. That’s a tougher job. They had a good product, they had a great price point, but retailers aren’t going to really adopt you unless you’re part of the cultural conversation around sports."