Why “Keep up with the Kardashians?”

September 23, 2013

I admit it. I watch some awful television shows. Real Housewives? Sign me up. Breaking Amish? I certainly was. Interior Therapy? Send Jeff Lewis on over to my house.

Yet even I, who will watch marathons of Theresa Guidice incessantly fighting with her family, have self-imposed standards. I’ve never seen “Keeping up with the Kardashians” or any of the various spin-offs. Call me judgmental.

Unlike many (or so it seems), I have no interest in this made-for-television family. Yet there seems to be a lot of them. And they are everywhere. Promoting themselves and their products. On magazine covers. On television. On radio. On Twitter. On Instagram. On blogs. On Vine. On and on.

The Kardashian clan certainly has a brand to be reckoned with. But I find myself wondering exactly what that brand is. I’m even more curious since reading several articles questioning the impact of Lamar Odom’s alleged drug use on the Kardashian brand (For those not in the know, Odom is married to sister Khloe Kardashian).

And so I have become curious. What is the Kardashian brand and why do so many seem to aspire to it? After a little desktop research, here’s what I’ve discovered: There is a vast disconnect between what the family espouses as the brand and what the family’s brand lovers perceive.

According to one article, the family expends great effort to build a brand around wholesome family and accessible luxury. Family seems a given. Accessible? The Kardashians are certainly omnipresent. And their products can be purchased affordably in stores, including Sears, QVC, and ShoeDazzle. This seems to qualify as accessible.

But wholesome? One daughter became famous because of a sex tape. That same daughter has been married twice. One marriage lasted less than three months. She was pregnant out of wedlock with another man’s child before the second divorce was finalized. Another daughter has inspired an 18th birthday countdown calendar, so men don’t have to feel wrong gawking at her barely clothed body all over the Internet. Images the minor daughter seems to post with her mother’s approval. And at least three men in the family have been charged with assault.

I would imagine a public that consumes Kardashian news is aware of these incidents and others. The family appeal does not seem to be its wholesomeness. And here lies the disconnect between what the family says it’s projecting and what the public perceives. And there are great inconsistencies in the public perception.

Some lavish praise on individual Kardashians: “I like how she created a franchise with her sisters. That opens a lot of opportunities for women who have a spark of beauty and want to shine.” Others find the family to be the scourge of society: “Ridiculous people with zero talent.”

Yet it is these dichotomies that offer the truth behind the Kardashian brand. It is a truth that goes against everything I’ve espoused about branding during my career. The Kardashians are neither proactively building a consistent brand nor are they trying to control the message. Rather, they are content to allow the public to project on the family or individual family members whatever image they’d like. They can be whomever or whatever you would like them to be. It hurts me to say, but for the Kardashians the brand is irrelevant.

Instead, the bottom line is the bottom line: Just buy Kardashian products, watch Kardashian television shows, and follow Kardashian social media feeds. Those are the results that matter. Results that the multi-million dollar family empire is happy to take to the bank.

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