Kim Kardashian is a Marketing Genius: Part 2
Kim Kardashian and her family are a cultural phenomenon. Whether we like it or not, most of us know to some degree something about this family, or we’ve heard something about them recently, because they’re basically everywhere.
Last year we talked about how when we think of Kim Kardashian, marketing might not be our first thought. But whether we love her or hate her, we’ve got to admit that Kim K knows marketing.
The deal between Kim’s loungewear brand Skims, and the luxury brand Fendi we discussed on this blog has proven to be a success. Over the years, Kim has managed to capitalize on society’s obsession with the lifestyle that she and her family portray to make herself a billionaire, and become the marketing genius we know today.
Only that this wasn’t always the case. Kim Kardashian and her family have a (LONG) list of failed business ventures from which Kim definitely learned a thing or two, and I think we can take more than one lesson small business owners need to know.
Lesson #1: Don’t plagiarize
This may seem like an ethical no-brainer, but the Kardashians have a long history of conflicts regarding copyright infringements, but one of the earliest ones Kim was involved with was with her game app, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. This game was developed by Glu Mobile and it has been a success since its launch in 2014, so much so that it’s still being developed and available for download.
The problem came when Glu Mobile and Kim’s mother and manager Kris Jenner were sued in 2015 for $10 million by Kung Fu Factory, for allegedly using without compensation some elements of the game concept that were on the pitch they did to Kim and Kris back in 2013. This lawsuit ended up being settled outside court and the charges were dropped.
As business owners, we need to be careful with what we hear or read during the initial phases of a new business, product, or service. We can be stealing someone else’s intellectual work without even realizing it. Even though this mistake didn’t end with real business consequences for the game and Kim, it’s still important to highlight this case as an ethical cautionary tale.
Lesson #2: Provide real value
Between 2015 and 2016 Kim published the coffee table photo books called “Selfish” and “Selfish: More Me!”, both with over 400 pages of Kim’s selfies. Even though the price point for these books was low ($19.95 for the first one) these books provided zero value. When you look at the fact that you could just follow her on Instagram to see the thousands of selfies she has on her account for free.
Oddly enough, these photo books received good reviews from critics, but the reality is they (unsurprisingly) sold poorly.
The moral of this lesson is that small (and all) businesses need to think thoroughly about the value they’re going to provide with their products and services. You can only get away with selling bad products for so long, whether it has the Kardashians’ name in it or not.
READ THIS LATER: If you don’t have time to read this article right now, you can download the PDF version to your phone or computer and read it when you have time later.
Lesson #3: Study your audience, really.
A business needs to have a purpose from its very conceptual stages to actually have a chance of success, and actually provide a solution to a problem an audience has to make their lives a little bit easier. However, the oldest Kardashian sisters Kim, Khloe and Kourtney apparently didn’t know any of this, and they decided that launching a credit card for teenagers was a good idea.
Yes, the Kardashians had their own credit card, called, you guessed it, the Kardashian Kard. This prepaid card they created in partnership with Mastercard in 2010 was oriented to teenage girls. It was a terrible, poorly thought out business move that received a well-deserved backlash.
The “value” of the card was that people wouldn’t need a good credit score, or even a bank account to get it, but they’d definitely needed A LOT of money to use it. Some of the fees were: $59.95 just to get the card, $1.50 every time you wanted to use an ATM, another $1.50 to contact customer service, and so on. How was a teenager supposed to pay that!?
To summarize, the Kardashian Kard was clearly another quick way to milk the massive fame the sisters had gained with their reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which offered no value, but serves us as a reminder that no business venture can survive if it doesn’t have something meaningful to offer its target audience.
Someone took the time to create a website filled with information regarding this infamous card. You can check it out here if you’re curious.
Lesson #4: Know the people you associate your brand with
One of the major business scandals Kim Kardashian was involved with her sisters, Khloe and Kourtney was the Kardashian Kollection, an affordable clothing and accessories line they launched in partnership with the American retailer Sears in 2011. At the very beginning the products were being sold like hot bread, and the sisters were seen wearing the designs everywhere they’d go to promote the line. However, the issues didn’t take long to arise for the Kollection.
Customers started to speak up about the poor quality of the fabrics and materials of the products, hence the Kollection and the sisters started to receive a tide of criticism and bad reviews. On top of that, accusations about the abusive labor conditions at the Chinese factories where the clothes were being produced, including way below the minimum wage payments, and 12-hour shifts, started to point at the Kardashians.
The Kardashian Kollection survived until May 2015, when Sears announced the end of their partnership with the Kardashians, and the remaining stock was sold at bargain prices during the rest of that year.
Kim reflected on the Kollection fiasco in 2020 during an interview saying “I credit every business venture that I’ve been in until this point, to really understand what it takes, and how involved you really have to be if you want it to be the best.” She also said that she and her sisters got “almost nothing” from the revenue of the Kollection (reported to be approximately $30 million for the sisters combined just in 2013.)
In the end, it seems that this time Kim and her sisters played just the promotion role, and had little to no control over the logistical aspects of the line. However, by putting their faces in front of this business partnership they definitely recognized they had to care more about how the products were being made at the very least.
Lesson #5: Following “trends” is not the way to succeed
Following the “celebrity app” era, Kim and her sisters, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie Jenner launched their own apps back in 2015. The idea was to offer to their fans an exclusive sneak peak to their lives by uploading content about them that couldn’t be found anywhere else, and each app charged at a monthly subscription rate of $2.99. So, if you wanted to follow the lives of the four Kardashian-Jenner sisters, you needed to pay a subscription for each app.
At the beginning the apps were a success dominating the download rankings, but in 2018 all apps started to tank, and in 2019 all four sisters announced that they were shutting them down.
So, what happened? Well, a quote from a Vox.com covering the Kardashian app debacle summarizes it perfectly: “You can’t build a brand based on constant access and then cordon off access.” The Kardashians have exposed their lives since the early 2010s, and overexposure is part of the allure There’s simply no additional value they could offer on the apps that fans could justify paying for.
If you pretend to build a business just by doing what everyone else is doing, like an app, it doesn’t mean that you’ll do just as well as they seem to be doing. In fact, the chances of losing time and money are far too big, and most small businesses can’t afford that.
Kim Kardashian has come a long way to become a marketing (and business) genius. She and her family have been involved in many more business ventures, some successful, others controversial.
But despite the many slips Kim had over the years, she clearly learned from them, and she never gave up on building a powerful brand based on her family name. And I think that that is something to be acknowledged.
Lastly, I want to give a special shout out to the Smokey Glow and the Cruel World Happy Mind YouTube channels. Their commentary videos about the Kardashian businesses were a huge help during the writing of this blog.