Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Kardashians have become the reigning family of pop-culture royalty and are a constant staple in the everyday news cycle. With a family net worth of $1.5 billion, a combined Instagram following of over 680 million, and more than 950,000 Americans tuning in for an average episode, the family has more clout and exposure than even some of the world’s most influential politicians.
Looking back, though, the family’s success wasn’t always so assured. Many expected the Kardashians to fade into the background of D-List celeb status just like the rest of Beverly Hills’ trustfund babies. Thanks to the genius of Kris Jenner, however, the Kardashian brand has successfully executed one of the most difficult brand jumps there is – from low to high status.
Making the Leap From Low to High Status
The low-to-high-status jump can essentially be thought of as a brand’s glow-up – going from stale positioning, bad customer perceptions, and weak brand associations to pure aspiration and credibility. This is an uphill battle that very few brands have been able to execute.
Look at Champion. Over a four-year period, they’ve made their brand relevant again by moving away from the ‘I Got This at Walmart’ Dad Market to capitalise on trends in logo-vogue, streetwear, and nostalgia fashion. This move has earned them a 30-times increase in their Instagram following and sales upward of $1.4 billion in 2019. Champion’s success shows that brands don’t need to be luxury to be high status. Following the right trends and finding the right advocates has propelled the Hanes-owned apparel line from generic varsity sweatshirts to a Supreme competitor. Just like Champion, the Kardashians hustled to capitalise on the right trends at the right time by going all-in on the all-access celebrity trend to heighten their brand status.
Where the Kardashians and Champion have succeeded, though, many brands have not. The backward slide from high to low status is all too easy and has claimed a long list of brands in its grisly graveyard.
Take Ed Hardy, for example. 2008 wouldn’t have been complete without the tattoo artist-inspired clothing. A decade ago, the brand had Status with a capital ‘S’ – mainly thanks to celebrity influence and a lofty price point. But a few wrong associations later, the brand went from flashy to trashy (see: Jersey Shore).
Where Champion has thrived by capitalising on new status and nostalgia, other brands just couldn’t make the cut – like Juicy Couture. Juicy-stamped tracksuits were just as popular as Champion gear was in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, which led the brand to attempt a similarly-styled, nostalgia-themed comeback this past year. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t make the same resurgence due to stale brand associations (sorry, Paris Hilton) and a failure to evolve with current style trends and fashion design. In order for brands to remain relevant, they must make the right moves while still maintaining authenticity – and that’s a tough tightrope to walk.
Lessons From the Kris Jenner Book of Strategy
Marketers can look to Kris Jenner’s playbook for how to take their brands from low to high status OR for how to avoid the fate of Ed Hardy (RIP). While we don’t yet have a copy of this manuscript (hit us up when you do have it, Kris!) we imagine the chapters would go something like this:
1) Own What You Know
Kris Jenner unapologetically owns her family’s narrative. She identifies areas that each of her children can credibly own, too – even if they’re seemingly negative – and builds a brand story around it all. Look at Kylie Jenner’s makeup line success: they were able to take the increased speculation over her youngest daughter’s lips and create a product that met the immense hype. After all, who else would you trust for a good lip than someone who is notorious for hers?! Kris has been able to do the same thing with Khloe and the negative body image press that has surrounded her curves for years by creating Good American – one of the very first body-inclusive brands for jeans.
Many brands think they share in this same focus and bravery, but only go part of the way. Compare Wendy’s (a brand that isn’t afraid to take on competitors head-to-head on social media) and Xbox (who turned a product leak into an ownable and meme-able moment online) to Pepsi, who thought they boldly tackled racial inequality and civil unrest back in 2017. Their infamous ad (starring none other than Kendall Jenner!) was only met with backlash and criticism for their half-committed trivialisation of the issue.
2) You Can’t Have Momentum Without a Moment
Remember back in 2019 when Kylie literally just woke her daughter up from a nap and it went viral? All it took was a short video of Kylie singing ‘Riiiiiiise and shiiiiiine’ to surface before everyone was talking about it, sharing it, and re-enacting it. This happened again just recently when Kylie sang about getting wasted and it ended up as a TikTok trend! Kris Jenner took note of this viral moment and immediately monetised it. They trademarked ‘Rise and Shine’ and began selling branded merch for $65 USD a piece. This is not a drill – Kylie Jenner literally went from meme to money overnight.
Social media allows for real and unexpected moments to reinforce existing culture. This is where brands should pay attention: you can’t have momentum without a moment, and social media is where mundane moments meet infamy. Pay attention to real-time conversation around your brand and ensure your teams are empowered and agile enough to act on it.
3) Invest in Credibility
While the KarJenner clan has done a great job of monetising the right moments, one thing they’ve struggled with is wider credibility. Their haters speak loudly and often about their lack of contributions to society for their status and income level. Even as they started to make real contributions, they were still criticised.
Look at Kim K, who has now successfully used her platform to advocate for criminal justice reform and the release of 17 inmates in the USA. To increase her credibility in criminal justice reform, she ignored the haters and did the right thing to the detriment of her own time by pursuing her law degree. Becoming a lawyer is hard for anyone – even a celeb. Kim never attempted to play the martyr and persisted anyway, despite the detractors.
This is a lesson for all brands around virtuosity: it’s hollow when those being generous aren’t put out a bit by the act of giving. Status means that you are inherently more privileged. Sticking to your convictions without complaint is what makes it authentic. High status brands know the difference and spend more time taking action than broadcasting their good deeds – or complaining about how hard it all was to accomplish.
Keeping Up With What Kounts
Kris Jenner has built a family empire by acknowledging that not all high status brands are necessarily luxury. Her real playbook is likely much longer than three chapters, but brands can use her expertise to move from low to high status by following her lead: own what you know, realise you can’t have momentum without a moment, and embrace the fact that generosity is hollow without putting yourself out a little. As you can see, the devil works hard, but Kris Jenner works harder. Time to get to work!
Megan Sirockman and Jill Zatka are both strategists at Critical Mass