Monday, August 22, 2011

The Economics of Kim Kardashian

This economics-related post will be on a very odd subject: Kim Kardashian. While I personally dislike the socialite and television personality, she is a smart entrepreneur who has used her reality series "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" to catapult herself (and her family) into mainstream media. One may even argue she has become sort of a social icon. She may be easy on the eyes, but her success has more correlation with her marketing shrewdness than her looks. Today, Kim is amongst the most widely recognized figures in both social and mainstream media.

Interesting example, right?

I think this article from Yahoo! provides a great insight into Kim Kardashian's rise to prominence. For some familiar with current celebrity gossip, Kim just married NBA player Kris Humphries in a private ceremony over the weekend. The article goes on to detail how she probably earned a profit from the wedding, based on the exclusive deals made with People magazine, E! television channel, and a myriad of wedding services such as cake and wedding gown makers. One cannot but be impressed with this revelation -- even if only form a purely business standpoint. Weddings are amongst the most expensive special events out there and, given that she is a celebrity with money to spend, you can bet the wedding cost at least $1 million.

Think about this for a second: what makes Kim Kardashian a marketing juggernaut that all sorts of brands want her to become their spokesperson? On the surface, she appears to have no exceptional skill or talent besides looking prettier than the average female figure (keep in mind that "prettiness" is highly subjective). I'd argue that there are plenty of women better looking than her. However, very few have been able to transform themselves into a icon as she has. I think her success has been contingent on her ability to be associated with other celebrities, in addition to demonstrating a desire to become a household name. Amongst the many examples of this: she has been in relationships with arguably better-known celebrities like Ray J, Reggie Bush, and Miles Austin. More recently, she has been associated with Justin Bieber -- the perennial paradox of this wave of "new age" celebrities. Although these aforementioned relationships did not last, they lent Kim increasing exposure to the social media at large. At the same time, she has worked with E! television to expand on her television show. The results can be seen by her 2010 earnings of $6 million, purportedly higher than any reality star.

What Kim Kardashian represents is an example of how "web 2.0" has revolutionized our definition of marketing. Social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and even LinkedIn has allowed the general public to exert some influence on the mass media. Before these social networks came along, our relationship with mass media was a one-way street of reading/hearing whatever we were told by the newspapers, magazines, and television channels. But now, through these social networks, we are able to create some semblance of solidarity and voice our preferences -- in other words, our "word of mouth" can now penetrate those far beyond our immediate vicinity. And this is something companies have long yearned to see: what their target audiences are interested in, and the vehicles with which to reach these target audiences. Web 2.0 has allowed companies to rely less on marketing boutiques and their respective marketing research, and instead see the real-time trends -- all for free! For some companies, they seem to think Kim Kardashian as a fitting vehicle to push their products onto the general populace; others use Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher.

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