Every day seems to bring with it a new Kardashian-Jenner collaboration, highlighting not just the longevity of the family’s star power but also the uninspired and unchanging values of fashion and beauty brands today.
Yesterday, Quay Australia — a 12-year-old brand geared towards the music festival crowd — revealed a new collaboration with Kylie Jenner, the youngest of the reality TV royals. The week prior, Ippolita — the luxury jewelry company founded in 1999 — brought Kendall Jenner on board as “creative collaborator,” a position that involves styling and starring in an upcoming campaign. Prior to that, similar announcements came from Puma, Estée Lauder, Adidas, Daniel Wellington, Manuka Doctor, SinfulColors, the list goes on and on.
It’s no secret why brands are chomping at the bit to work with the famous family; their combined social media following is immense, with Kendall and Kylie clocking in at 82 and 95.5 million Instagram followers, respectively. The access they have to millennials and Gen Z — and the presumed pull they have over that younger cohort — is attractive to brands struggling to stand out and stay afloat in a saturated but uncertain retail space.
And for brands like Ippolita and Quay, which are only somewhat known in the U.S. market, their appeal is even larger, says Hélène Heath, a senior editor at the visual intelligence platform Dash Hudson. “[These are] deliberate attempts at gaining brand equity and driving rapid growth by tapping two of the world’s most famous women,” she said.
Designer Ippolita Rostagno and Kendall Jenner on set
But whether or not these partnerships are the best brand move is another story.
“Companies should always consider how such collaborations reflect and affect their brand reputation in the long term,” said Katie Smith, a senior analyst at Edited, a retail technology company.
However, many of today’s brands can be shortsighted, stuck on a barrage of social media numbers or a glitzy celebrity name.
“[A brand selecting a Kardashian] suggests there wasn’t much research done into which influencers actually speak to their audience,” said Gil Eyal, CEO and founder of the influencer marketing platform HYPR. “The truth is that the Kardashians have a very diverse audience, most of which is only loosely affiliated and interested in them, beyond the occasional interaction online.”
Puma might beg to differ. The company reported a 92 percent increase in sales for the first quarter of 2017, which were linked to collaborations with a number of celebrities including Kylie Jenner. (Rihanna, Big Sean and The Weeknd also partnered with the brand.)
But these collaborations can require a huge investment into something that is not a sure bet, as was apparent with the recent failure of The Estée Edit, Estee Lauder’s millennial-facing product line that boasted Kendall Jenner as brand ambassador. “Paying the Kardashians to promote your product is akin to playing a game of darts blindfolded; you have no idea who you’re going to hit and whether they’re your actual targets,” he added.
The surface-level disingenuity of the Kardashian-Jenner clan’s endless partnerships may not really matter — for them, at least. “Over-saturation clearly hasn’t been a problem for them. Their ubiquity has been a result of constant and continual exposure,” argues Heath.
Consumers may be more willing to accept the Kardashians’ branded facade than they have been with other celebrities — like Lebron James with KIA, or Alicia Keys and Blackberry — because it’s in their DNA. “They’ve diluted their brand to the point where fans understand that anything they mention on their social accounts is being paid for,” said Eyal. They thrive on a lack of authenticity that brands have so far been willing to ignore.
“The market is inexperienced and naïve” said Eyal, “and [the Kardashians] are trying to squeeze as much value out of it as possible.”