When celebrity overexposure is bad for the brand

Kim Kardashian may not fully understand the true cost of her 72-day marriage.

kim kardashian's brand


I realize that none of the Kardashians are big on introspection – unless they’re being paid for it, of course – but I can’t help thinking that before Kimmy K here decided to announce her big divorce after less than 3 months of wedded bliss, she might have done well to consider the tragic story of Jennifer Lopez, circa 2004.

You remember the early 2000s, I’m sure:  Jennifer Lopez was the hottest girl on the block, with a hit album, reasonably successful movies, a clothing line, perfumes and sponsorships up the wazoo.

JLo was gorgeous, seemed to be everywhere, and had no problems trading on her appearance (including a distinctive rear end).

Then Bennifer happened:  Her much-publicized, shamelessly commercialized relationship with Ben Affleck.  In those days, we hadn’t yet handed over our brains to reality television shows.  But that didn’t stop Bennifer from appearing on screens everywhere, from music videos to really, really bad movies to hyper-promoted tv interviews focusing on the ginormous engagement ring and endless prognostications about married life, kids and the future.

Oh sure, plenty of us complained about the relentless People covers, the Bennifer sightings in various glamourous locations – just as so many of us have complained about the Kim Kardashian media obsession.

But the whole thing didn’t really implode until the marriage was called off at the last minute.  And two careers were left in a mess.  (Even Matt Damon uncharacteristically called it “the worst thing” Ben Affleck could have done for his career.)

It’s taken JLo 6 years to recover.

Post Bennifer, Jennifer Lopez’s career took a huge hit:  Her movies with Afflect (Gigli, Jersey Girl) bombed critically and at the box office; her albums fared poorly; her sponsorships dwindled; and her JLo clothing line was ‘retired’.  She spent most of the last half of the 2000s out of the public eye.

(Yes, I know she was busy having babies and all, but look at Beyonce:  She’s 5 months pregnant but still managing to release music videos every 2 minutes and if I see her in another Feria or perfume commercial, I think I’m going to lose it.  Suffice to say that for most A-listers, pregnancy is no bar to keeping the machine rolling.)

It’s taken JLo 6 years to climb back from the overexposure, and she still hasn’t quite managed it entirely:  She had to take a big risk with American Idol, and her new clothing line had to be a partnership with Kohl’s.  Her new album’s first single did fairly well, but I’m willing to bet she’s made more money from the corporate sponsorships in the videos than she has from the actual music.

Does Kim Kardashian have 6 years?

At least Jennifer Lopez could sort of sing, dance and act.
What can Kim K do?

Well, she – or her mother, anyway – has a genius for exploiting mass media, and it’s entirely possible that, having watched the world get tired of Paris Hilton, Kim decided she’d go for a massive payout now and take the backlash consequences later.  

But I don’t think so.  I think that the Kardashians as a group genuinely think that their brand is far more aspirational than it really is.  I think they forget that sooner or later, customers do in fact wake up to the fact that they’re being duped, and generally aren’t very pleased about it.

So the question is:  When you’ve revealed yourself as willing to do just about anything to get headlines and cash – including what appears to be a ‘sham’ marriage – will people still want to buy your clothing?  Or will they just be too embarrassed?

Twelve months from now, Kris Jenner may still be talking about all the ‘deals’ Kim is involved in, but I’m 100% certain you won’t be bragging about the new Kardashian Kollection outfit you just bought.

Frankly, ChapStick needed a little scandal.

When was the last time you bought Chapstick, anyway?

the chapstick ad scandal


Is it possible you missed this week’s blogosphere scandal?

ChapStick posted the ad above, a couple of (female) bloggers decided it was sexist and offensive.  Not a huge deal, except then ChapStick apparently started deleting negative comments about the issue from their Facebook page, which got everyone really upset.

Suddenly it was such a big deal that even Forbes and the Wall Street Journal – who couldn’t possibly be looking to cash in on the short-term traffic spike, could they? – felt it necessary to report on the issue.  Adweek referred to the whole thing as a “death spiral“.


Samantha Ettus of Forbes said that the ChapStick brand has been built on the strength of female athletes like Suzy Caffee and Dorothy Hamill – but what she (and everyone else) seems to forget is that the lipcare marketplace has changed in the past 10+ years, and has changed a lot since the 1970s when Suzy Chapstick was first introduced.


An aging target market has a limited lifespan

It’s great if you can keep the customers you acquired in the 1970s, but ChapStick has a problem, which is, interestingly, contained within one of the offended bloggers’ posts:  

“I have used your brand for 25 years, ever since my mom put my very first tube of ChapStick in the bib pocket of my snowpants before heading out for an afternoon of sledding….I have used your brand on my own children….”

Her kids may be using ChapStick now, but you know what’s going to happen:  As soon as they can buy their own lip balm, they’ll reject what Mum bought them and head for more ‘adult’ lip balms.

That’s exactly what’s happened to ChapStick:  While the lip balm category has grown by 12%, ChapStick sales have fallen by 2.6%, while newer, ‘cooler’ brands like Burt’s Bees have grown by double digits.

(And that doesn’t include the lip gloss revolution.  Ask any girl or woman under 30 and she’ll tell you she’s got a lip gloss stockpile that far outpaces her lip balm collection.)

You can only coast for so long on squeaky-clean sports figures.


“I kissed a girl”, and other ways to make ChapStick more interesting

Some sources have suggested that Katy Perry’s Cherry ChapStick shoutout in her “I Kissed a Girl” song triggered sales increases of 50% for cherry ChapStick.  And it wasn’t like that song was without controversy.

So you’re a marketing strategist for ChapStick.  You see that being associated with older sportswomen is leading to shrinking sales, but being associated with pop culture is getting you more attention than you’ve had in years.  

What do you do?  Continue with the status quo advertising you’ve been doing since the 1970s, or try something a little different?


To be honest, I have no problems with the advertisement above.  I don’t find it sexist (I’m far more offended by popstars and their ubiquitous naked body parts), and I happen to think it’s clever (because aren’t we all finding tubes of lip balm in odd places, 2 years after we lost them?).

More importantly, I think ChapStick has actually been pretty savvy here:  The strategy (“Where do lost ChapSticks go?”) is a good one for appealing to new consumers without alienating existing ones, and has a lot of legs.  

No, they shouldn’t have deleted comments from their Facebook page – censoring social media is always bound to get you in trouble – but in the long run I think the whole tempest in a teapot will go unnoticed by most of the target market, while giving them some much-needed top-of-mind awareness.

Resisting the Steve Jobs hype

I’ve been a loyal Mac user for 15 years.
I’m still not iSad.

i'm not an apple fanboi

It’s sad that Steve Jobs has died.  He was young, pancreatic cancer is terrible, and there’s no doubt that he was a smart guy who did a lot to transform the way we interact with technology.

I’m also a loyal Mac user.  I got my first Apple computer in 1996, and have used them ever since.  I got a huge cinema display screen in 2003 when they cost a fortune (more than $2500), and my first iPod in 2005 when they still cost a fortune ($700).

But, at the risk of getting myself flamed into oblivion, I have to say I find myself disturbed by the emotional outpourings of grief his death has engendered in the past few days.  

Steve Jobs was a business tycoon, plain and simple.  He may have transformed the way we interact with technology, but he wasn’t doing it in order to save the world (he famously canceled Apple’s philanthropic efforts when he returned as CEO, and so far there isn’t much evidence to suggest he was doing much privately, either).  He wasn’t really trying to make computers or other gadgets accessible to the masses (Apple software isn’t open-source like Linux, and the hardware isn’t cheap like PCs).  Apple may be a great place to work – but don’t expect a good work/life balance.  And if Microsoft or News Corp. had sent ‘investigators’ to search people’s homes for prototypes or information, I can promise you there would have been a huge backlash.

I don’t know…I’m all for celebrating the lives of people who have made a difference in the world.  And Steve Jobs did that.  I guess I just wish we’d do more celebrating of the people whose goals weren’t all rooted in money or who used their extraordinary wealth and influence to cure a disease or alleviate poverty.