After Diane Sawyer interviewed Bruce Jenner about his transformation to a woman, Kris Jenner tried to distance herself from her former husband in the media. She told Radar online and other media that she has cut off all contact with him and is pretending that he does not exist.
That was then... This is now
Once Kris realized that the Sawyer interview drew 17 million viewers on a Friday night -- making it one of the highest rated shows of the year, she began whistling a different tune. What a surprise! There is now a two-hour TV special on E! entitled Keeping Up With the Kardashians: About Bruce. It will air in two one-hour segments on May 17th and 18th. According to an E! press release, Bruce and all the Kardashians will appear in this special.
Shifting gears seems to be a Kardashian skill
Ever since they came "on the scene" in 2007 with their reality TV Show on the E! Channel Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the Kardashian women led by mother Kris and including daughters Kim, Kourtney and Khloe have developed a brand that was estimated to be worth roughly $80 million in 2013. In 2015, that figure is likely to be much higher since Kim's net worth alone is currently pegged at $85 million. This indicates that there is a significant market for the wide variety of Kardashian-branded products that include apparel, fragrances, skin care, tanning lotions, jewelry, candles and expensive bottled water in addition to the reality show.
Even if you are in the sizeable segment of Americans that believes the Kardashians have little or no talent, these numbers should get your attention. That's more than the combined earnings of A-list actors Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock and Tom Cruise in 2011. That's not all. With her 31.6 million Twitter followers, Kim Kardashian alone receives $10,000 per Tweet from her contract with in-stream advertiser Adly.
First signs of trouble
However, all is not perfect with the Kardashian brand. Over the past several years, it has weathered a series of hits that negatively impacted the Kardashian image. It got slammed in November of 2010 when the Kardashians received a letter from the Attorney General of Connecticut. The letter claimed a prepaid debit card branded as the Kardashian Kard, which targeted young girls, had hidden predatory fees.
Information about the card spread like wildfire in the news media. CBS news interviewed me for the story, and because of the resulting negative PR conflagration, the Kardashians terminated their association with the card. This termination, however, caused the Revenue Resource Group, LLC to sue them for $75 million and breach of contract.
72-day marriage fiasco
The wedding of Kim Kardashian to New Jersey Nets basketball forward Kris Humphries took place on August 20, 2011. It is estimated to have cost $10 million. However, by most reports, it did not cost the Kardashians a dime since it was financed by a variety of media and sponsors that used the wedding to promote their products.
Unfortunately, the marriage lasted a mere 72 days when Kim announced through her publicist that she filed for divorce. This caused the segment of anti-Kardashians to grow and for many to label the wedding a sham and a publicity stunt. Even noted saxophonist, Dave Koz, who played during the ceremony, told the press that he thought the wedding lacked authenticity and seemed more like a scene in a movie than a real wedding.
Anti-Kardashian petitions and boycotts
Two days after the marriage ended, petitions were circulated online to boycott the Kardashians. Four years ago, the Boycott Kim.com petition had amassed 285,692 signatures. The objective of the petition signers was to get the E! Channel to cancel the Kardashian's reality show, and to encourage Sears to stop selling a line of Kardashian clothing in their stores.
In addition to these boycotts, PETA has created a billboard in Hollywood criticizing Kim Kardashian for wearing fur. And human rights organizations are accusing the Kardashians of manufacturing their clothing in Chinese sweatshops. Upon doing an image damage assessment, it seems as if the American public is divided into three camps -- the Kardashian lovers, the Kardashian haters and those that really don't care one way or the other about the Kardashian brand.
This celebrity brand continues to thriveEven before the anti-Kardashian movement gained traction, some believed the brand would not have staying power because they saw little talent behind it. In a story by Andrea Chang in the Los Angeles Times, marketing expert Eli Portnoy said,
The Kardashians are a great example of, in my mind, talentless celebrities or celebrity for celebrity's sake who took advantage of their looks, a sex tape, a lot of pretty raw and low-level stuff that titillated and fascinated the American public.
Kardashian brand is everywhere
While the anti-Kardashian camp would wholeheartedly agree with Eli's statement, the Kardashians are still being talked about everywhere you turn -- talk shows, news programs and Saturday Night Live. Kim's Twitter following continues to grow, and companies are willing to pay Kim and her sisters a sizeable amount for their Tweets. Tyler Perry cast Kim Kardashian in his movie The Marriage Counselor. While he has taken some heat for that decision, he knows that Kim Kardashian has a lot of followers, and they go to movies and buy products.
More brand power from the power couple
Kim's marriage to Kanye West and the birth of their daughter North has only added to the popularity (and notoriety) of the Kardashian brand. Kim and Kanye are considered one of Hollywood's top power couples. Some have even branded their pairing with the handle "Kimye." Time Magazine named Kanye and Kim to its Top 100 most influential people. Kanye alone has an estimated net worth of $130 million.
New blood from Kendall and Kylie
To tap into the younger generation, Kris has added Kendall and Kylie to the Kardashian brand with modeling careers and clothing lines. Also, Kendall hanging out with Justin Bieber at the Coachella music festival does not hurt the celebrity gossip mill that fuels the Kardashian brand. Of course, while Justin's name messes up the K-alliteration, it fits with the "J" of the Jenner brand extension. If you think that is not important to Kris, think again.
What a brand really is
After all, what is a brand? It's a shortcut to purchase comprised of two main components -- (1) a target audience that has a need and (2) an image of the product that fills that need better than competitors. As long as the Kardashians have a large audience, their brand will be alive and well. While no brand likes haters, marketers know that detractors go with the territory.
Good to be bad
As George Bernard Shaw once said, "Better that half of them love you and half of them hate you than everyone think you are nice." Perhaps more importantly, it appears that in some parts of the celebrity universe, it is good to be "bad." With a combined net worth nearing $215 million, being "bad" is not so bad for Kimye's bank accounts.
Capitalizing on the Jenner transformation story
So there have been ups and downs, but it does not appear that the downs have hurt the Kardashian-Jenner brand. Therefore, it is no surprise that we are witnessing a complete reversal in Kris's initial distancing herself from Bruce Jenner. With 17 million watching the Sawyer interview, it seems that Kris and her media-savvy "Kardashian klan" want to get in on the action.