Kim Kardashian announced her new shapewear brand, KIMONO Solutionwear, and in the process infuriated entire countries, captured news headlines, and has the whole media world’s attention before launching her official brand name.
Don't feel like reading the whole article? We get it. In short, Kim Kardashian’s KIMONO wasn't a mistake, it was an outrage marketing masterpiece.
KIMONO Solutionwear Outrage
In a series of tweets on June 26th, Kim Kardashian announced her new shapewear company “KIMONO Solutionwear,” and she immediately met with massive amounts of backlash. Kim even received a letter from the Mayor of Kyoto, Daisaku Kadokawa, asking her to change the name.
Kim’s company has been shared all over social media, discussed ad nauseam on internet outlets, and covered in-depth by traditional media. Why? Because of its obvious appropriation of the traditional Japanese garment known as a kimono. After a few days of public outrage and attempts to defend her decision, Kim apologized and announced she would rename her brand.
The story is over, right? Not quite.
We don’t think this was an honest mistake or oversight. We believe it was an intentional outrage marketing strategy, a viral marketing stunt that triggered public drama to garner massive amounts of media attention and brand awareness for Kim's new company. And, it was genius.
KIMONO's Outrage Marketing Strategy
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Kim said, "You would think we would have obviously thought it through a little bit deeper." She’s right. We do think she thought it through and just decided to follow through with it to create some innocent controversy.
For a mega-millionaire celebrity, it's difficult to believe Kim didn't get the opinion of her legal team on the implications of naming her company KIMONO before tweeting it to 61 million followers.
Think about it: how much media attention would Kim’s new company receive if it was called Kardashian Solutionwear? It would register a blip on the media radar simply because of her name, but nowhere near the international coverage she’s earned by naming it KIMONO.
Everyone reserves the right to get offended, and in 2019, brands scrutinizingly tip-toe around a minefield of trigger words to remain inclusive of different cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and races.
When brands make messaging missteps, the public let them hear about it immediately. Just look at how Nike pulled the Betsy Ross shoe after Colin Kaepernick said it represented a time when slavery was legal. Even seemingly small controversies like when people got offended after SpaceX launched Elon Musk’s roadster into orbit because it contributed to space debris.
Outrage culture goes more in-depth than speaking your mind. Outrage culture is a form of solidarity that defines groups, unites communities of people around specific issues, and increases social bonds along party lines.
And there is money in causing outrage. "Outrage is profitable," said Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark. "Most of the outrage I’ve seen in the online world – I would guess 80% – someone’s faking it for profit," he continued.
It's true: there is money to be made using outrage marketing. Look at IHOP's burger campaign, which scored 600,000 tweets in 24 hours and grew burger sales 400% in the first three weeks.
Why it Worked
Brands cause outrage all the time, and most of it is accidental. Gucci's racist blackface sweater during Black History Month, Gillette’s “Toxic Masculinity” ad, or H&M's racist "Monkey" sweatshirt featuring a young black model were not hoping for negative criticism.
Here are two reasons why Kim’s KIMONO outrage marketing stunt worked and why we think it was genius:
1. It was Believable
The Kardashians are not known for their dazzling intelligence as much as they are known for their looks. So when Kim announced KIMONO and people become upset over clear cultural appropriation, she leaned into her public persona, claimed it was an innocent mistake, and we just believed her.
After all, her name is Kim, Kim's brand makes clothing, and a kimono is a piece of clothing. Yes, it's a stretch (pun intended), but it isn't unbelievable for a beauty mogul celebrity like Kim.
2. Kim Apologized Promptly
After three days of media attention, Kim apologized and announced she would change the name of her brand.
Like a well-executed joke, a perfect delivery requires the right amount of time between the setup and the punchline. Wait too short, and you lose buzz. Wait too long, and people become irreversibly upset.
If we look at the gold standard outrage marketing campaign, IHOP let their announcement linger for a few days before revealing that the “b” stood for burgers.
Maybe we’re wrong, and this was an honest mistake and not a viral marketing strategy. But, if you consider the state of advertising, with "wokewashing," and edgy advertising trending, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
If your company or organization is looking to make headlines, drop us a line.