The beginning of Kentucky for Kentucky’s new commercial sounds like most local television ads. The Lexington-based brand’s two owners, Whit Hiler and Griffin VanMeter are sitting on a couch in their new 1,200-foot warehouse space — the Kentucky Fun Mall — advertising their various wares.
They sell novelty items like fried chicken-scented candles, horse print socks, and those seemingly ubiquitous “Y’all” t-shirts.
It is a little loud and grainy, but it’s what you’d expect for a local television commercial — until it’s not.
Hiler is wearing a hat made from a stack of KFC boxes and a loose western string bow tie over his t-shirt. VanMeter is wearing a party hat and not much else. After a few seconds, a black bear in a KFC trucker hat flashes on screen. Chicken clucking sound effects abound.
“We just wanted to make this weird,” VanMeter says. “We are the products of the 80s and 90s, and took inspiration from just kind of that lo-fi beauty.”
And they succeeded.
The commercial is obviously self-aware — more performance art than advertising. Since its online debut Monday, it’s already garnered a fair amount of online attention, including a shout out in Tuesday’s AdWeek “Ad Freak” section.
“I think what we were thinking was ‘What do you think of when you think of a local commercial?’” VanMeter says.
But most local Lexington TV stations weren’t buying it.
VanMeter attributes this to a couple things — some of the language they used, as well as the appearance of their mascot “Cocaine Bear,” the aforementioned bear in a hat. VanMeter says the bear has become a popular draw for their store. The bear — now stuffed — infamously overdosed on cocaine dropped by a Kentucky drug dealer in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
“And then there’s a dude with a dad bod standing there half-naked,” VanMeter says. “It was too hot for local TV.”
This isn’t the first time the duo’s advertising has been called into question. For example, in 2013, NPR’s All Things Considered reported on their push to change the state slogan to “Kentucky Kicks Ass.”
That initiative wasn’t successful — but Kentucky for Kentucky’s new commercial will make it on air.
WLEX-TV, Lexington’s NBC affiliate, agreed to run it during The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live — that is, after Hiler and VanMeter agreed to bleep out any questionable phrases with the sound of a chicken clucking.