Monday, May 2, 2011

Why Kris Jenner doesn't understand the Kardashian brand

I watched Khloe and Lamar last night as I was putting away the laundry. I didn't expect to like the show all that much but I did.

Of all the sisters, Khloe is by far the most appealing. She is real. She looks normal. Not starved. Like a regular woman. 

I like that Khloe is upset about her weight but tries to accept herself anyway. That she is conscious about being a role model for other women. 

Khloe is like a good character in a novel or a movie. Complex, and three-dimensional. Strong, but also cries. Knows when to be sensitive, and when to say it straight. Is smart. Is honest. Messes up. Fixes problems. Is in love with her husband, but she knows when to put him and everybody else in their place. (Like when he and brother Rob filth up the house and expect her to clean it up singlehanded.)

In short, I really like Khloe. She is watchable. She is an excellent brand. If you want to sell advertising on a TV show, you would be well-advised to choose hers.

And yet for some reason, Kris Jenner laced into her for not being attentive enough to "the brand." I assume she means Quick Trim, the family's line of diet aids. Which to me sounds like Quack Trim. Something I personally would never buy.

What Kris doesn't understand is that the Kardashians have a brand architecture. If she knew how to leverage it she could help the kids make a lot more money than they already do right now. By exaggerating the characteristics they're known for, and using them to sell related items. 

As follows:

1. Khloe is a distinct brand: the strong but complicated sister. I like her on reality TV. Portraying herself. I would watch her try to raise a kid, run a company, organize for social good, whatever. She is for real but she also knows how to be real in an entertaining way. When to put things on speakerphone, so to speak. I don't think Lamar belongs with her on TV. He is not an entertainer. He's a regular person. Leave him out of it and focus on her. Nothing to do with Quick Trim.

2. Kourtney-and-Scott are another brand: the dysfunctional couple. In contrast to Khloe, I enjoy watching them together. The drama, the fighting, the endless ups and downs. Kourtney has some kind of struggle with self-criticism and self-denial that is literally combustible with Scott's personal struggle between good and evil. The reality show is a little boring. But they could do something where they try to deal with other couples...maybe they could do front-scene where they have a matchmaking service and behind the scenes where they fight and make up all the time. That would be fun. Nothing to do with Quick Trim, at all.

3. Kim is yet a third brand: the beautiful but fragile woman, prone to destructive relationships, for whom looks define her. The woman who is trying to be independent but somehow struggles with a need to be in a relationship constantly. There is something very feminine about Kim, in an old-fashioned way - almost masochistic. She is a good spokesperson for Quick Trim, which really promotes self-denial for the sake of looking beautiful. Kim could also promote pretty much anything based on her looks. She should milk this while she can because the 15 minutes are going to be over within - at most 3-5 years. 

4. Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe together (It is unfortunate that the acronym for this is KKK - maybe they could do K3): A fourth brand that could be outstanding in the realm of destination entertainment - the nightclub scene - anything where there is dancing, drinks, and music involved. No need to involve Quick Trim here.

5. Rob is another good brand: The screwup who is really not such a screwup. An intelligent young man raised by a den of women. Who is trying to figure out his identity as a man, as a human being. Who is sort of good at what he's doing with the girl-band, but still can't quite figure out what he wants out of life. Easily he could be making movies or TV shows about the experience of being young, aimless, unfocused, etc. I can see him starting some sort of promotional effort at colleges...not quite sure but there is a good brand there. No Quick Trim.

6. The other daughter whose name I can't remember: OK, I looked it up. She is Kendall. Right now, a model. Fine. Doesn't need Quick Trim though, she is too young.

7. Last but not least - Kris: A potentially excellent but underdeveloped brand here. The woman who is older and wiser, still beautiful but feels past her peak, pushy and hovering but loving and absolutely instrumental to creating a strong family bond. A woman to be reckoned with. But also one who needs her own identity aside from her family and kids. I can see her creating a spa for women who need to get away for a solo vacation. Or promoting a line of romance novels for women who feel unfulfilled in their relationships. Or being an advice guru, syndicated on TV or in the newspaper, helping women to advance themselves (if she is not doing that already). Stuff like that. But Quick Trim also doesn't work for her - it just seems unhealthy.

All of these strong people - all interesting brands - could be a multi-billion dollar enterprise. (If the Olsen twins can do it...)

But right now they just don't understand where the money is. It seems instead to be falling upon them by accident.

If I could tell Kris anything about what to do, I would say:

1. Develop the person-brands, not the product brands: Take the focus off the diet pills. The perfume. The other stupid products - for example there is absolutely nothing memorable about Dash or the debit card that was such a big flop. The key here is to have personas that are so much bigger than life, that anything they touch will be a success.

2. De-emphasize the issue of unity: It's OK if they go to a movie premiere while having a fight. We like that in fact. It's part of their brand promise. Ease up on the kids a bit.

3. Get a third party to be the brand manager of the overall enterprise: Mom doing the branding is incompatible with the personal role of keeping the family together. It's too much like she's using them, and I don't think she means to nor do I think she wants to appear that way. It is interesting how Kris is like the character of the mother in The Fighter, with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. There, too, the mother loved the many kids she had; was trying to manage Wahlberg's boxing career so that he and the family would be taken care of; and was screwing up royally because she was too enmeshed with the sibling dynamics and couldn't be objective. Not to spoil the movie (don't read ahead if you're concerned about this), but they needed outside help.

Overall I really like the Kardashian family. I know some people put them down as trashy reality stars. But to me, they're just regular folks who are trying to make a living and who have opened up their lives for others to view. If they're well-compensated for that, so what? It's America and they've made their money honestly.

Just also want to say to Khloe specifically, that I do think you are a good role model for women. That you have opened up an important dialogue about weight and how the preoccupation with the scale can ruin a person's life. 

Let's stop weighing people like moo-cows and put the focus back where it belongs - on the health of the human beings inside.

To the Kardashians and all the rest of us person brands out there - 

Good luck!

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