By Hannah Black, Senior Account Executive
As the old adage goes, nothing is certain except death and taxes. In the twenty-first century, we can add a third certainty to that list: Kardashian controversy.
Renowned and reviled, the notorious family has racked up an impressive list of scandals since Keeping up with the Kardashians first graced our screens in 2007. From greenwashing and lawsuits to affairs and accusations of cultural appropriation, there is no limit to the headlines that have fuelled the family’s media presence.
The reality show has acted as a vehicle for negating all celebrity controversies facing the family, from Kim Kardashian’s sex tape in the first ever episode, to Kanye West’s antisemitic comments in season 3 of the Hulu edition. Whether it is addressed directly, or mentioned in passing (see the latest season, which saw a ‘conversation’ between the sisters on their impact on beauty standards), the show is carefully crafted around these crises to share their side of the story – and divert from the worst of their affairs. The conflict resolution arch of each episode allows the family brand to comfortably close the book on each crisis, leaving their word as final.
Ultimately, scandal hasn’t done damage to their successes – it has, in fact, only brought them more. Kim has recently debuted as the face of Marc Jacobs, following partnerships with both Balenciaga and Dolce & Gabbana. Skims shapewear, Kim’s semi-eponymous brand, continues to see sales soar, despite the inherent irony of the brand model. The Kardashians has been renewed for a fourth season, and Kylie Cosmetics earned its namesake of ‘self-made billionaire’ which, aside from the obvious flaws of this title, was built off the notoriety of Kylie’s long-denied lip filler saga.
So, what’s the learning here? Certainly that the careful crisis management is crucial – let’s not forget the infamous parable ‘the devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder’. It’s no coincidence that media scrutiny of the family’s partying during COVID was sidelined when news started to leak that Kim and Kanye were getting divorced.
But more crucially – scandal isn’t always a bad thing. Each Kardashian story is deeply analysed across both press and social media discourse, keeping the fans – and the haters – talking. MJ Corey, the brain behind Kardashian Kolloquium, said: “It’s true that more recent discourse about the family’s scandals has come with a greater sense of urgency, due to 2020’s notable consciousness shift around class and race. But we need to keep in mind that social media algorithms flourish in negative or conflict-oriented engagement. Scandal has fuelled the Kardashians’ journey to where they are now, and I believe it will keep them there.”
Should brands take a leaf out of the Kardashians’ book then, and look to controversial marketing to boost brand awareness? To Corey’s point, we hold brands to a much higher moral standard than ever before; it’s certainly not unwise to be mindful of public perception. But it’s worth remembering the famous words of Oscar Wilde: there is only one thing worse than being talked about – and that’s not being talked about. So, whether it’s managing a crisis that’s already in motion, or looking to generate conversation, a bit of controversy might just be what you’re looking for. When handled carefully, even the most morally ambiguous stories keep the fire burning. I’m sat here writing this article, aren’t I? So maybe Kris Jenner can teach us a thing or two about keeping up with a krisis.