What Brands Can Learn from the 'Bone Zone'

Chewbacca Mom. Pokemon Go. Ken Bone. If there is one thing to be learned from 2016 so far, it’s that our love is swiftly won, but just as swiftly lost.

Chewbacca Mom. Pokémon Go. Ken Bone. If there is one thing to be learned from 2016 so far, it’s that our love is swiftly won, but just as swiftly lost.

Bone, the lovable red sweater-wearing Presidential Debate attendee was catapulted into internet fame after asking a question of the candidates at the October 9th Presidential Debate. In the days that followed, he gained 250k Twitter followers, conducted interviews with everyone from CNN to Jimmy Kimmel, had his own Reddit AMA and from the looks of it, didn’t take off his signature sweater for even one second.

Then, on October 13, Bone tweeted: “uberSELECT helps you ride in style like me.” What followed were reactions that ranged from calling Bone a sell out for cashing in on his 15 minutes of fame to applauding him for turning his new-found fame into personal gain. The endorsement was reportedly made in exchange for an undisclosed amount of Uber credit and was later deleted by Bone after realizing he had not complied with FTC paid endorsement rules.

Izod, the maker of Bone’s red sweater and the most likely candidate to cash in on Bone’s fandom had a fairly vanilla initial response saying, “We commend Ken on his cool demeanor and earnest question, and his wife for choosing his sweater.” But then today, 11 days after the world met Mr. Bone and perhaps on the cusp of being a little late to the party, Izod released a video on YouTube entitled “Ken Bone’s Fifteenth Minute.” The video toes the line between sarcastic and serious in documenting Bone’s reaction to his fame and his goal of using his celebrity to encourage people to vote.

Between Uber, Izod, and Bone’s own t-shirt sales via Represent.com (nearly 6k sold at $19.99 a piece!), it’s easy to see that both brands and individuals can find it hard to resist cashing in on even flash-in-the-pan fame.

The possibility of generating free buzz for your brand amidst swirling popular culture conversation can be extremely tempting. Who can forget the notoriety Oreo received for essentially creating Real-Time Marketing with their Superbowl XLVII “You Can Still Dunk in the Dark” tweet? And in the world of ever increasing consumer expectations, brands can actually be criticized by consumers for not capitalizing on ripe pop-culture moments with a clever response.

So What’s a Brand to Do?

Proceed with caution.With the right plans in place, brands can quickly evaluate opportunities as they arise so they know how and when to participate. More specifically, brands can:

  1. Be ready. The proactive development of a brand expression guide complete with guidelines, voice and tone definition, and more will help to align internal stakeholders and agency partners. This will help clarify what the brand stands for and how that should be communicated externally.

  2. But be ready to walk away, too. More times than not, branded responses to pop-culture moments and insta-celebrities cross over into the cringe-worthy. Unless the stars align with the just right moment and the just right response from your brand, you may want to sit back and let the news cycle spin on to the next thing.

  3. Focus on the long term. Rather than obsess about generating buzz around your brand for hours or days, your time and effort may be better spent thinking about building lasting relationships with your consumers. Instead, obsess over the ways you can really truly help them, the ways that you can provide them with something more useful than a fleeting chuckle from a clever tweet.

While we can never predict when or how a brand may be pulled into the fray, we can certainly count on the fact that there will be another moment. Because the internet loves all things adorable and real, there will be another Ken Bone. There may even be a Ken Bone who perfectly meshes with your brand so it's important to be ready, but it's also important to be ready to walk away.

No matter what, there's one thing we know for sure: Don’t be a Ken Bone for Halloween. That joke’s already old.