How Ken Bone Became a Brand

“America, prepare to enter the #bonezone.”

Jim Bourg / Reuters

Here is how Ken Bone, newly minted celebrity, introduces himself on the Twitter feed he established on Sunday: “Somewhat reluctant, undecided, cuddly internet political faceman!”

The “undecided” part is, it seems, still true. So, definitely, is “cuddly,” and “political faceman”—not to mention the earnest enthusiasm of that crowning exclamation point. “Reluctant,” though? That might be a little less true than it was on Sunday. Bone now has, by virtue of his status as the civilian victor in Sunday’s presidential debate and his subsequent transformation into a human meme, more than 200,000 followers on Twitter. This afternoon, he sent out the following message to them:

The tweet links, as you’d expect, to some bona fide (and also Bone-ified) marketing literature for uberSelect.

Why should you choose uberSELECT?

  • The safe, affordable rides you know and love — with an added touch of luxury
  • Top rated driver partners
  • All at a cost that won’t break the bank!

All of this was more than enough to win over the formerly undecided Ken Bone, who this morning took the first-ever uberSELECT ride in St. Louis!

Yes. Again, just what you’d expect. Not about the tweet, necessarily, but about the cycle that it represents. In the space of a few days, Ken Bone has gone from a man, to a meme, to a celebrity, to a … brand. Or, more specifically, a #brand. Which is to say that he has ridden the roller coaster of microcelebrity to its inevitably commercialized conclusion, stopping along the way for lots of pictures that will commemorate the experience later on.

So, first, there were all those tweets. And the guy who wrote a song about him. And the twitterer who wrote a poem about him. Bone made the requisite appearance on Jimmy Kimmel. Stephen Colbert wrote a ballad in his honor. He was interviewed by The New York Times (in an article announcing in its headline that “Ken Bone Is Closer to Deciding”). Time magazine did a deep-dive analysis of the celebrities Bone follows on Twitter.

And then, Kenneth Bone—lovable hero, relatable Everyman, splitter of suit pants—reached that pinnacle of pop-cultural relevance: There is now a Sexy Ken Bone Halloween costume.

Of course there is. And of course Ken is capitalizing on it all! The meme-industrial complex is premised on the idea that attention is currency, and that celebrity and advertising are almost inextricably linked to each other. The lines between the communal and the commercial were vanishingly thin even before the internet came along; the web has eroded them one meme at a time. That’s as true in politics as it is in everything else: Joe the Plumber wrote a book. Tito the Builder formed TitoPac.

And, now, Ken the Bone is selling things on Twitter. Because of course he is. Because why wouldn’t he? And, indeed, why shouldn’t he? Ken is marketing Uber; he is also, though, marketing himself. Here is the tweet Bone pinned to his feed, ensuring that it’s the first thing his followers will see on his page:

The #bonezone, like so many other things in a country that runs on capitalism, is fickle. It can also be, though, surprisingly friendly. After Bone explained to CNN that he wore his now-iconic red sweater to Sunday’s debate because he had split the pants on the suit he’d planned on wearing, Jerry Gergich-style … fans established a GoFundMe campaign on his behalf. To raise money to, yes, buy Ken a new suit.

It was a nice gesture. But it was also, it turns out, an unnecessary one.