Unpacking the Latest Chapter of the Kardashian Industrial Marketing Complex
A look into how Soul and Science plays into culture.
Written by Dayna Uyeda, Strategy Director at Mekanism, and Annette Perfetti, Director of Influencer Marketing at Mekanism
The Kardashian Industrial Marketing Complex rules the cultural zeitgeist. That’s not new news. But we couldn’t help but wonder, what is today’s chapter all about?
The first chapter was KUWTK (or the Kourtney and Scott show), followed by Kimye, then Kylie and Kendall adulting, then building the beauty empires, then collectively procreating the next generation of influencers. So where are we now? You heard it here first: Today’s chapter is all about the Kardashians using personal identity as cultural authority (PIACA). Or as we like to call it, leveraging Soul (who they are) and Science (what works in culture).
USING PERSONAL IDENTITY AS CULTURAL AUTHORITY
The Kardashians have always used their identities to stay on top of the cultural food chain. You might be asking yourself “why is today any different”? If you think about it, each of the most popular Kardashians is reaching an inflection point in which their identities are coming into a new level of clarity. A type of crystallization that has only recently surfaced. Whether it’s Kim coming into, or recentering, her own identity post-divorce, or Kylie doubling-down (literally) on her identity as a mother. Kourtney ditching the drama, the shade, the baggage, and leaning into freely exploring this next chapter of her life on her own terms — haters in her rear view mirror. Sorry Khloe, Kendall, and Kris, but you’re not it right now.
UNPACKING “PIACA” BY FAMILY MEMBER
Kim: Kim’s identity story is about being unabashedly confident (not to be confused with “comfortable”) in her own skin, and she has made herself into the cultural authority on the subject.
Case in Point: Everything she’s built is in service of enhancing confidence in your own skin.
- SKIMS: She’s the queen of shapewear, literally used to feel secure, thus exuding confidence. The Cut recently put out an article on how even if you hate Kim or feel ambivalent about her, you still gotta love her shapewear because she GOT IT RIGHT (AND TIGHT).
- KKW BEAUTY’S REBRAND: KKW Beauty is rumored to be reworked to “SKKN” and if anyone remembers her last round of beauty products weren’t just any type of makeup, it was BODY FOUNDATION. Because your WHOLE ENTIRE BODY needs the right shade of foundation, blur, and polish!
- Honorable mention: I mean, she’s a spokesperson for living with Psoriasis!
Kylie: While Kylie built her empire on beauty, that was just child’s play. Her real identity story is tied up in her being a mother. In 2015, while talking to Teen Vogue for her cover story, Jenner said that she was thinking about motherhood as early as 17. Perhaps her journey to Forbes cover was a fun side project and now she’s finally getting to the plot.
Kylie is now using her identity as a mother — and a new mother now with baby #2 on the way — as her cultural authority. Introducing…Kylie Baby! She has 1 child and is an expert on baby products. We’re impressed. It’s a highly crowded market but Kylie entered it smooth sailing, with all of the “Kylie Baby Sets” selling out within hours of launch. It turns out Kylie Beauty was just a stepping stone to the real gold: unlocking an audience of new mothers and with a new freshman class of moms every year to capitalize on as statistics show 3 in 10 teen American girls will get pregnant at least once before the age of 20.
Not to mention the strategically timed launch of Kylie Baby and Baby #2 announcement.
Side bar: Go down the Kylie Swim rabbit hole here.
Kourtney: Kourtney might be the most interesting story. Kourtney’s identity is really coming into its own. Her lifestyle brand Poosh is all about pushing against the idea that living a healthy, happy lifestyle doesn’t have to be rigid. But there’s so much more there that teases this chapter of her identity story. The About page reads: “We’re not about preaching or judging, we’re about exploring and conversing. This isn’t a monologue, it’s a dialogue.” She’s embracing a self-driven lifestyle and it’s showing because she’s winning. Her relationship with Travis Barker is that unexpected exploration — congratulations to the newly engaged couple are in order.
Her vibe is “idgaf” if you judge me. She is unapologetically living her life as it is — undefinable in one way or another. And it’s actually helped her find her way to true happiness (it seems).
Other celebrities have done all this before: used their identities to cultivate authority in a certain category, lifestyle, or philosophy, and they’ve built empires: Gwyneth’s Goop. Jessica Alba’s Honest Company. Rihanna. Period.
But there are some stark differences in how the Kardashian’s approach using identity as a powerful driver of cultural authority, and this leads to some interesting learnings for us.
What Marketers Can Learn from the Kardashian’s “PIACA” Approach:
The Honest Company is expertise-led, whereas the Kardashians don’t need to be experts. Their authenticity is their authority. It informs their go-to-market strategy of pairing life’s authentic milestones with content and product launches to deliver a 1–2 punch of PR + Profit.
LEARNING #1: Authenticity, in its rawest of forms, is a priceless business plan.
Goop started as and will always be a niche, more exclusive lifestyle brand whereas the Kardashians are exclusive, yet open books. Therefore, they are multidimensional in their fame, success, and wealth. They embrace their phases, mistakes, and drama unapologetically. They hold both extremes at once. These are their unique RTBs and they own them with pride.
LEARNING #2: Embrace extreme multidimensionality, it makes you more marketable.
Rihanna has created her brands and businesses in order to create change outside of her own image. Her endeavors are built from her values which permeate to cultural betterment of all (more skin tone shades, more representation, more inclusivity, more definitions of sexy) whereas the Kardashians are mostly for their own benefit driving people to buy into their brand. While Rihanna might be operating in terms of entrepreneurship, innovation, and breaking down barriers. The Kardashians make use of CLOUT-prenuership, CLOUT-stribution, and breaking the internet.
Not to mention, they have the numbers on these other female leads. They live by a feedback loop of success, in which they each benefit off of each other’s identity moves.
LEARNING #3: CLOUT is the best marketing budget and when you have clout, the rest follows.
Which leads us to a recent “break-the-internet” Kardashian behavior that we couldn’t help but mention: the SKIMS photoshoot featuring the arm candy of the “future baby daddies.” This in and of itself delivers on all of the above skinned in a beautiful package.
Why? Because it’s an AUTHENTIC expression, exuding that extreme multidimensionality, and runs on clout-sharing between these two highly visible and talked-about celebs.
Kourtney is having her moment of shine because her identity story as this sexy mom in a sexy couple group is tapping into bigger cultural mood, vibes, and #goals:
- The summer of Rogue Power Couples
- The collapsing of “old” and “new” (MKG is the new Travis, Megan Fox and Kourtney are the new definition of mom/milf) which is a classic cultural equation for buzz
- Finding true love in the face of all odds (in this case divorce, toxic ex’s, children, the cultural stigma of getting older as a woman in Hollywood, etc., but in most people’s cases in spite of COVID, lockdown, pandemic conditions, etc.)
Kim saw the hype in the media around the MGK foursome and decide to push that hype to the extreme collaborating with two ladies known for their now, relationships to rockstars, and their sex appeal. Kim is now being touted as a “marketing genius” — we agree.
To this we say, keep at it. Can’t wait for the next identity power move from this dynasty.