Should the Kardashians be considered a brand?
Several of the comments posted in response to my recent Los Angeles Times article, co-written with Calendar section's Yvonne Villarreal, about the potential economic impact of the Kardashian-Humphries divorce on the family's brand, raise an interesting question:
Is there really a Kardashian brand to begin with?
Some of the marketing and branding experts I spoke with -- including CultureRanch's Eli Portnoy (who has the long view of several decades in the business) -- answer with an emphatic "no."
"I don’t think they’ve earned the right to be called a brand," Portnoy said. "I'd rather call it the Kardashian business' because the word 'brand' is being overused. The concept is to establish a substantive, meaningful relationship with an audience. The Kardashians haven’t done that, and without it you are not going to be a long-term brand, you’re a fad -- short-term fluff."
Portnoy name-checked Kathy Ireland and the Olsen twins as examples of celebrities he feels have built business empires -- and brands -- by bringing something to the table. "Even Paris Hilton -- love her or hate her -- a least there's a brand there that she's trading on; the heritage of the Hilton hotel brand and the notion of old-money America."
Though "brand versus "business" may sound like a matter of semantics, Portnoy says it's a crucial distinction to make when trying to figure out the impact the 72-day marriage will have.
Portnoy contends that by focusing on multiple brand extensions (multiple reality TV shows, clothing collections, fragrances, shoe and liquor endorsements and the like) instead of building a meaningful brand relationship with consumers, there is no brand loyalty.
"It's a case of the emperor's new clothes," Portnoy said. "There isn't anything behind the [wizard's] curtain, and I think that level of deal-making we saw going on is going to wane. People are going to stop investing themselves in it."
Photo: Kim Kardashian promotes the Kardashian Kollection in Sydney, Australia. Credit: Tracey Nearmy / EPA