Kentucky Unbridled Spirit

What is "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit?"

It is the brand for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. According to the American Marketing Association, a brand is "a name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competition." That line is most important. A brand is an identity given to a product to make that product more desirable to the consumer. And in our case, the "product" is the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Why is branding important?

According to a Tufts University research project, "A brand's purpose is twofold: One – it serves as a major tool to create product differentiation: and Two – it represents a promise of value. From a consumer's viewpoint, a brand is – above all – a shortcut to a purchasing decision."​

Research has recently shown that in less than two years, The "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" brand is having a positive impact on consumers' perception of the state and their intent to visit the state. Twenty-three percent of the respondents said the brand gave them a more favorable perception of the state, up 7.3% from the first year of branding. Also, 48% said they were more likely to visit Kentucky, an increase of 8.6% over year one.

The most important fact learned in the study is that more people now say they want to visit the state. This will lead to more visitors and more tourism spending and that will add to Kentucky's General Fund. This means the brand is doing what it is supposed to do helping differentiate Kentucky from surrounding states and encouraging more visits.

What does "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" mean?

Here is the definition:

"Kentucky is a place where spirits are free to soar and big dreams can be fulfilled. We relish competition and cherish our champions for their willingness to push beyond conventional boundaries to reach new heights of success."

How was "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" chosen?

It was chosen by a popular vote. In the fall of 2004, the citizens of Kentucky got to vote their preference from among four choices. "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" was the overwhelming choice. More than 55,000 people voted for it during the brand voting, and through each round, it was the runaway winner. Since then, the positive response to the new brand has been phenomenal.

How is "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" being used?

The brand is being incorporated into everything the state creates – from license plates, state Web sites and advertising to state signage, brochures, stationery, and other materials. As advertising messages are developed, "Unbridled Spirit" is the underlying theme. If we're using photography, the images used graphically portray "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit." In short, everything we do acts to reinforce the look and meaning of our brand. It provides a consistency and an expectation of quality to have all state information having a common appearance.

In addition, hundreds of Kentucky cities, counties, tourism and economic development organizations also have adopted the brand on their materials. That includes road signs, stationery, web sites – even posters on their walls.

Why is it important to put it on cards, Web sites, pins, etc.?

The advertising term is called "impressions." The number of impressions is important. The more people see it, the more accepting they become of it. If we show Unbridled Spirit in as many places as possible, and talk about it, it will become ingrained in our everyday lives and will start to redefine us in a positive way. Internally, it fosters pride among our people.

Many Kentucky businesses also are including "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" in or on their materials. For example, Marathon Petroleum painted the brand on its five million-gallon storage tank in Catlettsburg, making it the first image travelers see as they enter Kentucky from West Virginia. Lambert Farm near Owensboro created a corn maze using the "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" brand. Many companies, including Toyota, include the brand in their advertising efforts. Kentucky soldiers in Kuwait painted the brand on a large concrete barrier, and Kentuckians sign the barrier as they pass through the country. It reminds them of home.​

Why is Kentucky branding itself? What is the goal?

We want to boost Kentucky's image, make it consistent with all the ways we reach people and help Kentucky stand out from the crowd. We want visitors, business people, clients of our services and residents alike to get a clear, memorable and positive impression of Kentucky from their first contact. Over the years, official efforts to give Kentucky an identity have often overlapped. You're probably familiar with "Education Pays", "Think Kentucky", "It's That Friendly" or "Open For Business." There's nothing inherently wrong with those phrases, but such competing messages can confuse people or cancel each other out. Each cabinet or department in state government has historically tended to "do its own thing" in regard to marketing, advertising and other communication efforts, reducing efficiency. We have worked to eliminate competing messages wherever possible, not only saving time and money, but also delivering a unifying, concise theme that puts the best face on the Kentucky we all love. Out guiding principle throughout this process has been "Once state, one vision, one brand."

Why do we care what people think about Kentucky?

If we can get more people to visit or live here, they bring new money into the state. That money circulates through the Kentucky economy, creating jobs and adding to the tax rolls. That means more money is available for things like educating our children, providing better health care for our people and building better roads. It also keeps our tax rates low.

Is Kentucky's branding effort unique?

Yes. In fact, Kentucky is the first state in the nation to completely brand itself. However, providers of goods and services, as well as politicians and others, have been branding or marketing themselves since the dawn of time. And most have found that a consistent, recognizable brand – i.e., a logo, a slogan, a particular way of doing things – has helped them build a loyal constituency.

In a lengthy piece by advertising writer Stuart Elliott in June of 2003, the New York Times named only two states – Kentucky and Oregon – as developing multi-purpose brands. The Voice of America, a worldwide radio news service, made a similar observation in a piece it broadcast that November.
(See And as the VOA reporter correctly noted, we don't claim that a new brand alone will inspire people to move to Kentucky or do business with us. Branding is part of a long-term process to enhance Kentucky's image, to show the rest of the world what we're made of. We think our unbridled spirit is rather contagious.

Since Kentucky's branding effort has been under way, several other cities and state have adopted branding strategies. Many have contacted Kentucky to see, "How we did it."

Are we spending a lot of money for branding?

The Kentucky branding effort itself cost approximately $650,000. And the state paid for this through consolidating advertising/marketing contracts and eliminating advertising commissions. In fact, the state actually saved several million dollars in the process. Here's a comparison with other branding efforts:

Louisville is spending $2.5 million to develop and market a new brand.

Kansas is spending $1.7 to brand just its Commerce Department to attract new business. We're branding the entire state.

New Mexico has allocated $3 million for one year to create a single brand for the state as a place to live, vacation or do business. "Other agencies could get involved and allocate additional money in subsequent years…"

Several years ago, the University of Louisville spent $560,000 to re-brand the university with the slogan "Dare to be Great." Afterward, a spokesman said student quality improved, fund raising increased, and the university actually saved money by eliminating mixed messages and streamlining production through consistency.

In 2003, UPS spent $1 million to change its brand mark, then another $20 million to communicate that change. UPS called the spending "an investment."

Gish, Sherwood and Associates, a $100 million advertising and public relations agency, describes Kentucky's efforts as "extensive," considering the cost. He says his branding campaigns for clients often run in excess of a million dollars.

How do you know that "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" is actually working?

Through research. Three years after the branding process started, research conducted by Jerry Henry and Associates showed the following: Kentuckians' awareness of "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" is soaring. In Kentucky, 88.9% correctly identified the state brand in 2007.

"Kentucky Unbridled Spirit's" brand awareness and appeal is strong throughout the region. Awareness of "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" brand averaged 64% among customers across the 10 state tested and averaged higher than every other state brand tested in the study.

Kentucky's branding campaign has also improved most people's perception of Kentucky. Descriptions of Kentucky are nearly universally positive and largely include words such as "pretty country," "beautiful," "good/ great place to live or visit," "horses," and "lots of things to do or see."

Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that the overwhelming majority of both residents and non-residents indicated they believe Kentucky is a "better place to visit" (90%), "more friendly" (81%), and "more modern" (81%) than it was just several years ago. In other words, Our image has improved.
To reiterate, more people now say they want to visit the state. This mean more visitors and more tourism spending – and that will add to Kentucky's General Fund. This also means the brand is doing what it is supposed to do – helping differentiate Kentucky from surrounding states and encouraging more visits.


If I want to put "Kentucky Unbridled Spirit" on my advertising, web site or materials, who do I contact?

Contact the Kentucky Department of Tourism, 502.564.4930, or by e-mail:

Unbridled Spirit Graphics Standards​

Kentucky Unbridled Spirit

Before using or placing any version of the Unbridled Spirit logo, review the graphics standards.

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