Last fall, pop culture experts turned sour on the Kardashian brand. "The Kardashian Brand Is Over" and "Kardashian Brand Tarnishing Fast" were headlines in the weeks following Kim Kardashian’s divorce from basketball player Kris Humphries -- just 72 days after a wedding that many fans believed was a publicity stunt.
A full fiscal quarter later, however, the Kardashians are still here and their brand appears to be stronger than ever. The experts, it seems, were wrong.
So how did the Kardashians manage to overcome the divorce backlash? It all goes back to their original business model, which they essentially borrowed from a master of faux fame, Paris Hilton. But instead of following in Hilton's footsteps, the TV-friendly family tweaked the model so as to achieve pop culture longevity. Though it may seem that a Kardashian is constantly in the spotlight, the family knows when to back away from the media. It's the stars who can't stop begging for attention that ultimately burn out.
Since her Oct. 31 divorce announcement, Kim has stayed relatively quiet. Sure, her various reality shows are still in E! rotation and she's been active on Twitter. But she hasn’t been making big news announcements, especially when it comes to her personal life.
That has certainly helped bring when it came to fetching some good publicity for the recent launch of the Kardashian Kollection’s new lingerie line. (We're guessing her topless tweet didn't hurt either.)
The famous family also saved its brand by immediately refocusing attention away from Kim’s failed marriage to a much happier bit of news: Kourtney Kardashian’s pregnancy.
"They are weathering the storm of bad media by choosing better promo ops for the whole family," said Bryan Fulton, the CEO of Bullet Point Branding. "They seem to be pushing Kourtney's baby story more to save [themselves from] backlash from the wedding and strengthen their brand. It humanizes the Kardashians and can prove lucrative."
Sean MacPhedran, director of strategy at Fuel Industries, doesn’t believe Kim’s wedding has been the disaster that the media made it out to be -- at least not for her fans.
“If there was no conflict in her life, there would be no narrative for people to follow," he said. "No one wants to watch a movie where nothing happens, and, in essence, that's what Kim's life is, for the audience. She's the star of her story, and her fans care about what happens."
"It's also important to note that her fans care about her, specifically,” MacPhedran added.
The Kardashian brand had to cater to two audiences in the days after Divorcegate 2011, MacPhedran said.
“One [group] is the larger pop culture audience that reads tabloids for drama and revel in the slips that celebrities make in their lives," he said. "The smaller of the two audiences is the more important for the Kardashian brand: the real fans."
"These are the ones who follow her on Twitter, watch her show and will be influenced by endorsements she makes, MacPhedran said. "They care about Kim, and I think that for these true fans, Kim gets the benefit of the doubt, and there's really not a huge impact [from] what happened."
Since the divorce news broke, viewers have been able to track the crumbling of Kim and Humphries' relationship through the lens of her show, "Kim & Kourtney Take New York." With Kim's mother, Kris Jenner, as executive producer of the show, Kim comes out looking like the wronged party most of the time. As a result, viewers might find its hard to dislike Kim or even question her judgment after watching Humphries call her names and mock her career and even flee New York to get away from her.
The show has maintained key brand messages for the Kardashians and their fans, according to Sarah Parker Young, COO of the marketing firm NexxtVision.
“They have reinforced that they are all hard workers," Parker Young said. "They are constantly creating, shooting, bringing to life on television all of their various projects. Kim seemed genuinely distraught that she had wasted people's time and money."
Also, "though the various members seem to be ridiculous as individuals, as a family they show to the public a very strong bond that is attractive to the public," Parker Young added.
Whether you like them or not, the Kardashians probably aren't going away anytime soon. Their shows’ ratings are on the rise, their clothes are selling well and their Twitter following is growing, meaning their distribution network is strong. Maybe Americans were all wrong about the "Kardashian Kalamity. It seems it will take more than a high-profile divorce to bring down this empire.
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