Kardashians: Will the Appearance of Doing Just About Anything for Money Harm their Brand?

Last Updated May 30, 2011 11:46 PM EDT

Ever since they came "on the scene" in 2007 with their reality TV Show on the E! channel "Keeping Up With the Kardashians," the Kardashian women led by mother Kris and including daughters Kim (30), Kourtney (32), and Khloe (26) have developed a brand that brought in $65 million last year. This indicates that there is a market for the wide variety of Kardashian-branded products that include apparel, fragrances, skin care, tanning products, jewelry, candles, and expensive bottled water. As crazy as it may sound, this market has enabled Kim Kardashian to generate 7,254,527 Twitter followers (as of this writing) and receive $10,000 per Tweet.

Will this celebrity brand last?
Some argue the brand doesn't have staying power because they see little talent behind it. In a story by Andrea Chang in the Los Angeles Times, marketing expert Eli Portnoy says, "The Kardashians are a great example of, in my mind, talentless celebrities or celebrity for celebrity's sake who took advantage of their looks, a sex tape, a lot of pretty raw and low-level stuff that titillated and fascinated the American public."

Has the brand already been damaged?
The brand took a hit in November of 2010 when the Kardashians received a letter from the Attorney General of Connecticut. The letter claimed a prepaid debit card branded as the Kardashian Kard, which targeted young girls, had hidden predatory fees. Information about the card spread like wildfire in the news media. CBS news interviewed me for the story (disclosure: BNET is owned by CBS), and because of the resulting negative PR conflagration, the Kardashians terminated their association with the card. This termination, however, caused the Revenue Resource Group, LLC to sue them for $75 million and breach of contract.


Brand Clash, or should it be Klash?

Just as the negative fallout from the Kardashian Kard seems to have dissipated, the Kardashians inked a head-scratching deal with Sears to launch Kardashian Kollection boutiques within Sears Stores. They will target women aged 17 to 35 with apparel, lingerie, jewelry, handbags, hats, gloves, shoes, and more. Why does this appear to be a big branding mistake? Sears is known for selling Craftsman brand products mainly to men in addition to branded appliances. Once America's biggest retailer, they have lost considerable market share to Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, and Best Buy. Many consider Sears to be "yesterday's news," and they are certainly not known as a place to buy young women's clothes. On the other hand, the Kardashian brand, has been associated with hip, young, sexy, and fashionable styles. The images of Sears and Kardashian do not "compute" in the brains of most people that are aware of what these brands represent. They are likely to cause confusion, and marketers know that confused buyers don't buy. In the LA Times article, Eli Portnoy says, "In my mind, Sears and the Kardashians are not consistent at all. It hurts both properties. That one strictly comes off as about more greed, more money."

What can marketers learn?

There are many lessons to be learned from how the Kardashians are managing their brand.

  • Brands need to stand for something. The key, or brand image, has to fit the lock, or needs of the target audience. If understood, a brand becomes a shortcut to purchase. If misunderstood, it causes buyers to put off buying.
  • The brand represents a trusted bond between buyer and seller. If the seller appears willing to put its brand on anything, the brand is likely to be diluted and lose its appeal to its most loyal fans.
  • Celebrity brands, especially those based on appearance and other attributes that are likely to change with age and media coverage, are more fragile and can go out of fashion as quickly as they come in.
  • Once the public understands a brand, it is difficult to change the image of that brand in their mind.
  • Pairing incompatible brands will hurt both brand owners. A retail brand attracts a certain audience, and that audience has to be compatible with the brands it carries. If not, the ensuing confusion will cause buyers not to buy.
What do you think about the staying power of the Kardashian brand?

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Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California (USC). Follow him on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr user, www.chicagofabulousblog.com
  • Ira Kalb

    Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California. He has won numerous awards for marketing and teaching, authored ten books and created marketing inventions that have made clients and students more successful. He is frequently interviewed by various media for his expertise in branding, crisis management and strategic marketing. Follow him on Twitter at @irakalb