An Unlikely Brand Maestro
Strong brands are a polarizing thing.
And so it is literally impossible for me to bring up the Kardashian Klan as a form of brand brilliance without somebody yelling "boo."
As in: "They're trash!" "I can't stand them!" "You're kidding me!"
But I have long said that the Kardashians, and in particular the "momager" Kris Jenner, are a stunning example of success in creating brand equity where there was none before.
- Most reality show stars earn a pittance. The "Krew," in contrast, earns $10 million a season for their famed show, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, which is really nothing more than the cameras following them around as they do...not much of anything.
- Kim Kardashian alone made $28 million in 2014, again for...not much of anything other than her body and her notoriety.
- And Kendall, aside from inking a monster deal with Estee Lauder to be the face of their makeup, reportedly earns $5,000 just for a single (140 character or less) Tweet.
But the real star of the show, one who has remained hidden in the background for a number of years, is Bruce.
Bruce represents the emotional heart of the family - what is real and honest and true. Not the image.
It is his approach that encapsulates "authenticity" and it is his style that will dominate corporate brands in the future.
I remember when Kendall and Kylie were very young. Bruce wanted to shield them from the limelight.
He didn't like Scott.
And he didn't like Kris pushing everyone around.
It turns out that Bruce had a secret all these years. But he kept it to himself until it was appropriate to share it.
And so he did, on national television. And completely stole the show from Kris and Krew in the process.
He was simply honest. He wasn't trying to get attention. But he was speaking up not just for himself, but for others who have been marginalized pretty much all their lives, for no reason other than that they represent a "threatening authentic self."
Being transgender is a very personal experience, and yet has been interpreted socially as an unjust and even shameful thing.
What Bruce said, when I saw him on TV, was that he thought his message was much bigger than his narrow experience. And I agreed with him.
He said that the world needs a lot more tolerance. And it starts with adopting a live-and-let-live kind of attitude. You do your thing, and I will do mine.
On the same show, which was an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kris broke down in tears at the kitchen table. We saw her thick black mascara streaking down her cheeks.
Superficially she was a woman whose marriage had fallen apart, and I felt bad for her. But as a cultural text she was a brand whose image had not just fractured, but splintered, no - actually it shattered, it shattered into a thousand pieces.
All her carefully scripted moments of "being real," the episode where she had to get Depends for urinary incontinence - they were supposed to show an authentic Kris, but they were a lie.
What we really wanted to see, what we needed to see, and what brands will now need to aspire to, is the encapsulation of the most private of human experiences, packaged in a way that others can understand, tolerate, and value.
The brands that succeed at "being Bruce Jenner" are the brands that will succeed in 2015 and beyond.