Conspicuously Private Branding: The Koch Brothers’ “Path to Freedom”


Normally BrandCultureTalk steers well clear of topics political.  We are a broad tent comprised of Cato Institute free marketers, Reagan Democrats, dyed-in-the-wool liberals, anarchocsyndicalist communists and even independents. But a recent experience brought to the fore the enormous efforts to privately brand the clandestine “Path to Freedom” conference at the Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, California sponsored by Charles and David Koch (aka the “Koch Brothers,”  billionaires several score times over and owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the United States).

Having traveled south from BrandCultureHQ to north San Diego for a brief respite from the assiduous work of brand-building, we arrived at Aviara
(a property we have previously discussed at some length) only to find beyond Presidential security in place.  Our attempt to purchase a bag of Skittles
from the hotel shop resulted in not one, not two, but three dedicated conference security personnel (with others waiting as backup) unequivocally and emphatically informing BrandCultureTalk that the entire hotel had been “bought out” and that under no circumstances would any purchases from the gift shop be permitted absent approval from the “Head of Security.”  We were then physically escorted to the edge of the property.

The irony of holding such a conference branded “The Path to Freedom” with an image of Lady Liberty on DEFCON 1 lockdown is not lost on us.  Let’s also recall the inscription on the pedestal of this magnificent monument:

Give me your tired, your poor Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free The wretched refuse of your teeming shore Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

And don’t forget that the statute itself was a gift  . . . from FRANCE!  Huddled masses!  Socialized medicine!  AHHHHHH! At the same time, we understand why the Kochs wish to conduct their work in private.  The Brothers Koch are the fourth-richest Americans and require no introduction. As a testament to the discipline of the Path to Freedom conference sponsors, not a single person working for the Park Hyatt Aviara would reveal even the slightest indication of who might have purchased the hotel “buy out.”  Preternaturally calm and polite, but also absolutely unequivocal and emphatic, security for the Koch Brothers Path to Freedom conference made absolutely sure that it was for invited guests only. Perhaps the Secret Service could learn a few lessons in discipline from this bunch, following the much publicized dalliances in Colombia or the earlier gaff where the Salahis crashed a State Department dinner at the White House.

We’re all for private events being private.  But the conspicuousness of the Path to Freedom security had the opposite effect than intended, drawing the attention of outsiders such as ourselves to overhear insider discussions of how the Obama administration is “changing America” (and not for the better), appointing “activist” judges and destroying opportunities for small business, among other predictable tropes.  As we have said repeatedly, brands can’t be all things to all people, but need to offer the right things to their intended audiences.  While we were certainly not the intended audience for the Path to Freedom, the tremendous efforts taken to keep outsiders out proved an irresistible urge to uncover what all of the fuss was about. For Path to Freedom 2013, the Koch brothers might want to more closely emulate Las Vegas security — ubiquitous, effective and largely invisible.

Now It’s Your Turn
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  • Mark Biskeborn
    Oct 22, 2012

    I enjoyed this blog article. I’m certainly not a fan of the Koch Brothers who have done nothing productive with their lives other than just being born as the heirs of an enormous company and its conglomerates…worth into the billions if not trillions.
    I do like the point you make about how a brand cannot be all things to all people. It is fitting for this branding case developed by the Kochs…or whatever branding firm is serving their designs.
    At the same time, the Kochs use branding tropes and images like “Path to Freedom” while using fascist type political goals through their numerous “grassroots organizations” like the Tea Party.
    The Kochs use these “American pie” phrases to inspire gullible Americans. And these naïve Americans serve the Kochs’ interests while these Middle Class Americans volunteer their time and money unwittingly to deserve their own political interests.
    By using effective branding, the Kochs are inspiring Middle Class Americans to work for “free” for the Kochs’ Political Agenda, and at the detriment of the middle class’s own interests.
    This reveals how powerful branding and classical rhetoric can be. It can manipulate gullible people into doing the complete opposite of their own intentions.
    It is ironic, comical and tragic all at the same time.

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