Friday, 13 February 2015

Breaking the Internet with Kim Kardashian West

Kim Kardashian West – GQ Women of the Year 2014 (Source: Huffington Post)

This post has been a long time coming, and I could have chosen to write it back when Kim Kardashian West first ‘broke the Internet’ with her now infamous Paper magazine cover, but I wanted to wait until some of the stats rolled in, and to collect my thoughts on what I dub the era of ‘Kardashian Kulture’.

Kimberley Noel Kardashian West, or Kim Kardashian as she’s come to be known, has been metaphorically breaking the Internet since her debut in mainstream pop culture back in 2007. Given this is a university blog, I won’t go into the exact source of her rise to fame (Google it), but ever since then she’s been working her way to becoming one of the most marketable celebrity brands in the world.

A business model that essentially began from collecting fees for club appearances and product plugs, has now grown to encompass a beauty empire, clothing and handbag line, multiple fragrance deals, high fashion campaign features, and nine seasons of the hit reality TV series, Keeping Up With The Kardashians (and that’s not counting the multiple spin offs). Say whatever you want about Kardashian West, but its undisputable that she understands how to sell her brand, and has a penchant for keeping herself relevant (whether you agree with her methods or not).

Now before we go any further, let’s contextualize Kim’s social media reach and consider that she’s the most followed celebrity on Instagram with 25.8 million followers, has 26.8 million followers on Twitter, and 25.3 million likes on Facebook. She still holds the title of the most liked photo on Instagram (a picture from her wedding to rapper Kanye West in May 2014), was the second most searched person on Google last year, and launched one of the most commercially successful mobile video games of 2014 (Kim Kardashian: Hollywood netted $74.3 million in revenue for the game’s developer Glu Mobile).

So given these credentials, and ignoring the argument that she’s ‘famous for nothing’, I can clearly see why some of the world’s most coveted brands want to work with her. Anna Wintour (Editor in Chief of American Vogue), for example, had allegedly banned Kardashian West from attending the annual Vogue hosted Met Ball until 2013, when she not only attended with then fiancé Kanye West, but later went on to score a cover of American Vogue, and now a solo cover of the Australian edition. Kim’s American Vogue issue went on to sell 250,000 copies (20% more than the previous month’s Rihanna fronted issue), and paved the way for further high fashion jobs including an ad campaign for luxury fashion house Balmain, the controversial Paper magazine cover (which resulted in 5 million unique hits to the magazine’s website in just one day), and further covers of CR Fashion Book (run by former French Vogue Editor in Chief, Carine Roitfeld), and Love Magazine (which is rolling out as I write this article).

I had originally intended to focus this post on the ‘re-branding’ of Kim Kardashian West, but after much thought I couldn’t commit to discussing the strategy behind a brand that continues to shift, shock and polarize the public (well, perhaps that’s the strategy after all). What I can say is that her brand is deeply embedded in popular culture; anything she does - ranging from cropping her daughter out of a photo, to cutting her hair - gets reported by every news outlet, and this insane level of conversation is what brands are buying into.

Sign Kim Kardashian West, and she’ll break the Internet for you.

Salil Kumar
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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