Even when bad things happen to the Kardashians, they still make money.
In February, rumours surfaced that reality star Khloe Kardashian’s boyfriend, NBA player Tristan Thompson, had cheated on her again, this time with her half-sister’s best friend, Jordyn Woods.
Jordyn was so close to Kylie Jenner, the youngest of the Kardashian-Jenner sisters, that they lived together, and Kylie, who has her own make-up empire, had named several product lines in Jordyn’s honour. That included the Jordy Lip Kit, a matching set of velvety lip gloss and liner in raspberry red.
Dh3.7mIs the approximate cost for one paid Instagram post from a Kardashian.
After days of speculation about the affair, Kardashian devotees noticed the price of the Jordy Lip Kit on the Kylie Cosmetics website had been slashed.
Customer reviews of the product began to take an angry tone: “This shade smells like betrayal” and “Be mindful of the shade as wearing it may lead to biting the hand that feeds you.” But it also sold out, almost immediately. And there was a big spike in sales of other Kylie Cosmetics merchandise, too.
Khloe’s relationship problems and Kylie and Jordyn’s rift — like every other chapter in the life of this family that has come of age in public — promise to be drawn out in excruciating detail on the 16th season of ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’ which premieres on April 7 on E!
On the phone the other day, Kylie told me she didn’t know that the Jordy had been discounted and that she called an employee as soon as she heard. She said it had been put on sale a couple weeks earlier as the company switched from white to black packaging. “That is just not my character. I would never do something like that and when I saw it, I was like, thrown back,” Kylie said. “Jordan knows I didn’t actually put it on sale.”
Even so, l’affaire Jordy is emblematic of a well-established Kardashian ecosystem: Family turmoil feeds the celebrity news cycle, which drives interest in the TV show, which then helps to publicise an ever-increasing number of sponsorships and branded products.
63The age of the Kardashian matriarch, Kris Jenner.
In interviews, Kris Jenner, 63, the self-identified “momager,” and each of her five daughters — Kourtney, 39, Kim, 38, Khloe, 34, Kendall, 23, and Kylie, 21 — talked at length about the family business. It amounted to a master class in the art of monetising influence.
Together they have transformed the way diet drinks, designer handbags, doomed music festivals and more (and more!) advertise, including through paid Instagram posts up to $1 million (Dh3.7 million) apiece. The sisters are dominating the sneaker industry with multimillion-dollar deals at adidas and, before that, Puma and Nike (through Kim’s husband, Kanye West). Such is their power to move digital markets that Snapchat lost $1.3 billion in value after Kylie tweeted, “Sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me... ugh this is so sad.”
In 2007, Kris pitched producer Ryan Seacrest a reality TV series that would follow her three high-maintenance oldest daughters, Kourtney, Kim and Khloe, as they clawed their way to A-list from D-list.
“She said, ‘We will be vulnerable at all points of impact no matter what presents itself and that struck me,’” Seacrest said. His production company was so fledgling that he had to send an employee to Best Buy to buy a video camera to record a Kardashian pool party that became part of the sizzle reel to pitch E! The cable channel initially passed, but Seacrest convinced executives.
53Sponsered instagram posts made Kendall Jenner $26.5 million, according to Captiv8, a marketing firm.
At the time, the family wasn’t well known but Kim was friends with Paris Hilton, at least, and had a sex tape. Kris billed the show as a “modern-day ‘Brady Bunch.’” (That is, if Jan had a sex tape). Kylie and Kendall, now idols to a younger fan base, were just 9 and 11 when the show started. “Kylie and I for a really long time wanted no part of it, we just wanted to go to our rooms and iChat with our friends,” Kendall said.
Kylie now has a daughter of her own, Stormi, 1 of 9 in the next generation of Kardashian-Jenners (ranging between 11 months and 9 years, with another on the way). Most started their lives on-screen; a 2010 episode has footage of Kourtney pulling her son, Mason, out of her birth canal herself. (“I think you ripped something, that’s like not normal,” Khloe says in the episode.)
The grandchildren are characters on the show, paparazzi targets, stars of their parents’ social media streams and cherished by fans in the 160 countries who have watched them grow up. “Everybody always says how I pulled Mason out of me!” Kourtney said. “Even if fans see Mason, they say I can’t believe it was that long ago.” Well after Kim has aged out of tube tops, it seems this ‘Truman Show’ of the 1 per cent will live on.
And an expanding menu of Kardashians offers something for everyone. Is body positivity your thing? Try Khloe’s Good American jeans. (“I never knew I was considered chubby until I became famous,” Khloe told me.) Want “working mom” lifestyle products? Kourtney will debut Poosh, a beauty and wellness line named after her daughter, Penelope. Or perhaps you’re into oversize camouflage jackets and wedge booties? Kendall + Kylie is there for you.
Most of these labels are sold almost exclusively online and with virtually no marketing budget, thanks to the women’s massive presence on social media.
In the first five minutes of Kim introducing her KKW Beauty line in 2017, she sold an estimated $14.4 million worth of product (or about 300,000 items).
300000Items sold in the first five minutes of Kim introducing her KKW Beauty line in 2017.
Last year, Kendall, who has become the world’s highest-paid model, made $26.5 million for just 53 sponsored Instagram posts, according to Captiv8, a marketing firm that connects brands to influencers.
Kylie was 15 when Kris took her to trademark her idea to sell matching lip gloss and liner together. In March, Forbes named Kylie the youngest “self-made billionaire ever,” causing heated debate about the definition of self-made.
“I can’t say I’ve done it by myself,” Kylie told me, driving to an airport in Los Angeles. “If they’re just talking finances, technically, yes, I don’t have any inherited money. But I have had a lot of help and a huge platform.”
Still, people tend to talk dismissively about the Kardashians as “famous for being famous,” rather than as entrepreneurs with an influence and reach perhaps second only to the reality TV star in the Oval Office.
Kanye West was dropping his daughter North off at school when Kim Kardashian West sneaked into her home office, upstairs, to take my call. The couple’s two younger children, Saint and Chicago, played downstairs. In May, they will have a fourth baby, a son via a surrogate — but if you have a pulse and an Instagram account, you already knew that. “I’m frantically trying to get the room ready,” Kim told me. “It’s madness.”
In her living room, she said, there’s a “mood board” that she and Kanye constantly work on: a collection of looks they like, or tweaks they want to make to Kim’s cosmetic, fragrance and accessory lines. In April, Carolina Lemke will introduce a Kim Kardashian West sunglass collection. Kim emphasised that she didn’t just put her name on these projects. She designed the glasses, got deep into the manufacturing process and dictated what the packaging would look like (and then dictated it again after Kanye weighed in).
“It wasn’t like ‘Hey, will you give an endorsement and step into our world,’” Kim said. “It was like, ‘What do you want this to be?’”
She said she’s just as involved with KKW Beauty, KKW Fragrance and the mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, consistently one of the most downloaded games. “If I changed my hair, I’ll let them know — ‘Hey guys, dye my hair right now’ or ‘Make a character with pink hair,’” she said.
15Was how old Kylie was when Kris took her to trademark her brand.
Making a brand so dependent on personal appeal means if fans are disappointed, sales can decline. Early last year, when Kylie posted less on social media as she tried to hide her pregnancy, buzz around her brand quieted, analysts said.
“Yeah, a huge part of my business is on social media,” Kylie said. “But it’s important to take those personal moments.” Except for the camera crew?
She laughed. “Besides national television, I like to keep it really private.”
And yet Khloe and her sisters still post sponsored ads for HiSmile teeth whitening kits and Flat Tummy teas and appetite-suppressing lollipops. After one recent post by Khloe, in which she hawks medically dubious meal-replacement shakes wearing a pink bra and showing off chiselled abs, actress Jameela Jamil, a frequent Kardashian critic, fired off an angry comment.
“If you’re too irresponsible to: a) own up to the fact that you have a personal trainer, nutritionist, probable chef and a surgeon to achieve your aesthetic, rather than this laxative product And b) tell them the side effects,” she wrote, listing the side effects, “then I guess I have to.”
Kris is sanguine about such criticism. “I don’t live in that negative energy space,” she said “Ninety per cent of people will be really excited about the family and the journey and who we are.”
Khloe, fresh from a workout, said that she’s never had a chef and that she posts all of her personal training sessions on Snapchat, well aware that not everyone can afford such a luxury. “Well, listen, I am showing you what to do, silly person, 15 repetitions, three times, here’s the move," she explained.
Kendall’s Proactiv deal, widely mocked after Kris teased it on Twitter as a “brave and vulnerable” move? “She never thought she’d ever be able to be a model because of her acne,” Kim said.
Kim also said she turns down more offers than she accepts. When a fast fashion line offered her $1 million for a single Instagram post, Kanye urged her not to do it, saying, “These companies knock off my stuff.” So Kim turned it down. As a thank you, on Mother’s Day, Kanye gave her $1 million himself. “He wrote me a cheque for that amount and said, ‘Thank you so much for always being supportive and not posting,’” she said.
And yet, despite such missteps, you have to admire that Kris and Kim leveraged a sex tape that could’ve been a scarlet letter into entertainment gold and a platform so powerful that Kim has visited the White House and made an impact on criminal justice reform, including convincing President Donald Trump to commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old sentenced to life for a nonviolent drug offense.
I asked Kim if she’d consider running for office.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said. “It would be probably the most stressful job in the world, and I don’t think that’s for me.”
Don’t miss it!
‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ season 16 debuts on OSN E! Entertainment HD on April 7 at 10pm UAE time.