Kim Kardashian and the Staged Controversy Strategy

Kim Kardashian hit the headlines once again this week after posting a series of nude selfies, sparking a social debate about female liberation and body-shaming on International Women’s Day.

What you may not have realised, is this entire online controversy was in fact a cleverly constructed marketing ploy used to peak Kim’s social relevance before plugging her latest products to consumers.

While on the surface Kim’s series of tweets might have been construed as harmless attention-grabbing or the casual narcissism she’s become famous for, in reality each and every post was timed and engineered to perfection.

Here are the four key stages to Kim’s International Women’s Day social strategy:

Step 1. The nude -Getting people into the sales funnel
On the eve of International Women’s Day Kim posts the nude photo. Predictable internet pandemonium ensued while media outlets report the picture and reactions. Kim’s now not only back in the news, she IS the news.

Step 2. To all my haters – From awareness to consideration
16 hours later Kim responds to her critics in a public twitter rant, followed by posting another nude image entitled ‘#liberated’. The social conversation about Kim’s female empowerment has leaked well into International Women’s Day as the masses weigh in.

Step 3. Flipping the script – Conversion
Kim tweets link to an open letter posted on her website (which costs a monthly subscription to access, but can be viewed for free here). She tells the haters to leave her alone and that she is free to take pride in her own female empowerment, and calls upon the body-shaming and slut-shaming she endured to be stopped.

Step 4. Guess who’s on Snapchat… Buy/Loyalty/Another touchpoint to consume Kim
The groundwork is complete and an appropriate environment has been created for Kim to announce she’s joined the hottest new social platform; Snapchat.

Kim created a media storm before launching and pushing her latest social enterprise. A selfie with Snapchat King DJ Khaled she posted on Instagram entitled ‘Mogul Meeting’ only days prior even foreboded this venture. She is utilising social media marketing to such an extraordinary degree thanks to her enormous reach and, no doubt, clever marketing team. However, techniques like this do not come without a unique set of problems.

A number of ethical questions are raised with this type of strategy, as a critical, generally negative backlash on social media is an intrinsic part of the formula here, and the ‘haters’ Kim goes on to condemn are actually a crucial component to the process. Basically, Kim Kardashian posting a nude selfie to a generally indifferent reception is not news – and she needs it to be news. In her open letter she questions “I never understood why people get so bothered by what others do with their lives”, despite the fact that the success of this entire strategy was dependant on people to not only care, but react. Is a marketing campaign that relies on the heated, yet provoked response from internet critics immoral?

This also brings into question the role of ‘haters’ in popular social discourse. Those who criticised or poked fun at Kim’s exploit were branded haters and slut/body-shamers, yet their role in the success of Kim’s strategy was fundamental. How can celebs that call for an end to online ‘hate’ then go on to use it as part of their digital marketing plans? Hmm.

Whatever your opinion on Kim and her social media marketing schemes there is no denying the results. Mrs Kardashian-West reportedly made $80m from her free video game app alone, while Forbes ranked her #33 on their Celebrity 100 list for 2015. There could very well be some take-away marketing lessons from how Kim does her business. How much of your reputation are you willing to pay with, though? That’s for you to decide.