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How a Brand called Kona unseated the Iron Brand of Men

If you’ve been to Kona, you’ve seen it. The Kona brand has usurped the popular brand for a world championship triathlon event.

For a period of time, when the Ironman movie was in theaters, the search for a globally significant triathlon event by brand name would result in content related to a Robert Downey Jr film. As searches diminished for the movie, slowly the top search results became triathlon related again. But as brands who compete in the triathlon market have grown, so have the related terms that are not licensed and the most popular now is “Kona”. How did this trend emerge, and how does it relate to a product controlled by an Iron Brand of Men?

The history of brand management for the Iron Brand of Men has been one of exclusion. All mentions and interactions with their brand has been a contractual agreement for a single category exclusive position in their affiliate partnerships.

file_001What this means is patrons of the Iron Brand of Men solely get to interface with approved brands at each event. For new or emerging brands, this presents a problem in that the cost for exclusive rights to market with the Iron Brand of Men are beyond the scale of your current business. It also assumes there is one energy source, one clothing choice and a single bike brand, etc who pays for the rights to market to these triathletes. It literally limits the types of brand experiences one might have at their events.

What happened in this exclusive environment was a new brand was spawned, the Kona World Championships. Because brands who wanted to be included in the buzz of the most globally relevant triathlon event annually, they simply created their own brand that only referenced the location and just enough details to remain relevant.

Nowadays when you visit the Kailua-Kona area the second Saturday in October what you’ll find is a ten-block large Guerilla effort in market relevance. By excluding brands beyond a single category, the Iron Brand of Men have essentially limited the assortment of brands participants can interact with during the event and given birth to a whole new brand, potentially more important, more searchable and more relevant than the Iron Brand of Men. The KONA brand.


Triathlon travelers who’ve attended the Tropical Tradeshow that is Kona have a plethora of merchandise to bring home that isn’t part of the Iron Brand of Men assortment.
Slogans like “Kona World Championship” or “Kona- Swim.Bike.Run” on real keepsake merchandise stands out against the branded keychain floats and frisbees offered by the official merchandise store. Don’t want to pay a licensing fee from said organizer, brand it KONA and you’re exempt.


What can we learn from this event branding example?:

  1. Limiting the reach of your brand by controlling the use of your content and brand marks only breeds Guerilla’s with an appetitite to take share in the market you may have created.
  2. Popular Culture will determine your relevance, ensure your branding is something the market will recognize as differentiated.
  3. There will always be competition. Create a model where tiered partnerships allow for multiple category sponsorships and growth within the market you created.


Long Live Kona