At least according to celebrity branding expert Jeetendr Sehdev, who argues on behalf of the publicity maven’s authenticity in his new book, “The Kim Kardashian Principle: Why Shameless Sells (and How to Do It Right),” being introduced Tuesday by St. Martin’s Press.
Overexposure and authenticity are linked, Sehdev said, contrasting Kardashian’s own personal choice to live her life out loud with the habit of “2000’s hit parade of born-again Disney pop virgins” to pretend that they were more clean-cut than they were.
Kardashian’s popularity marks what Sehdev describes as a “seismic shift in the way ideas catch on” and marvels at “the megamix of vulnerability, narcissism and sheer audaciousness that has propelled Kim from reality-show laughing-stock to cover girl.”
The book — which is part memoir, part marketing treatise — runs the Kardashian phenomenon through Sehdev’s branding filter, analyzing just why Kardashian’s unapologetic and highly publicized life resonates.
“Let’s be perfectly clear: Kim Kardashian is an utterly flawed individual, and so are you,” Sedev writes. “She built her fortune on one (literally) massive flaw — her well-endowed derriere — turning it into a million-dollar asset. She took her suburban sensibilities and lack of education and reframed them as modern sophistication and glamour.”
He offers up six principles brands can use to try and do the same and tap their inner Kardashian (if they dare).
• Surprise: Be unique and innovative and make no apologies.
• Expose: Have the courage of your convictions, don’t pull punches.
• Lead: Establish new norms and rally people to your vision.
• Flaws: Flaws are revolutionary, intoxicating, and compelling, embrace yours.
• Intimate: One size no longer fits all, so make sure your ideas and messages are tailored.
• Execute: Make it happen.
Of course, that spells out “selfie.” And Sehdev thinks fashion needs it badly.
“Today, what is positive and what is negative?” Sehdev said. “This is very much the paradigm shift we need as [members of the] older generations trying to understand the Millennials.”
Where many older people might see Kardashian as a sign that Western Civilization is failing, many Millennials see her as living the dream.
“Brands need to understand that in order to connect with a new generation with a new perspective on the world, we need to be able to empathize [with them],” Sehdev said.
And understanding the new mind-set, within this framework, means understanding that, to be unapologetically authentic and stand out for something, businesses can’t seek to be friends with all.
“Successful brands today will be polarizing,” Sehdev said. “They will be loved and they will be hated. Hate today is very much a status symbol. Empires have been built today on hatred. If your brand isn’t hated today, it doesn’t have a strong enough position.
“Brands strike nerves, we saw that with [Donald] Trump,” he said of the reality star’s rise to the presidency. “Trump is definitely [an adherent of] the Kim Kardashian principle. He is focused on what he believes in and what he wants to create, regardless of the blowback. Audiences are being drawn toward those people who are really empowering them by saying, ‘You know what? This is what I believe. This is what I stand for. And you decide if you like it or you don’t like it.’”
Sehdev said Tom Ford is good at standing up for what he believes in and that, for a time, J. Crew’s creative director Jenna Lyons was pitch perfect.
“Lyons was narcissistic in exactly the right amount and in precisely the right way,” Sehdev wrote, noting she took a very high-profile approach and styled models with thick black glasses and long, straight hair to look like her. “She designed clothes that she wanted to wear and did with such courage, conviction and finesse that millions of women and men worldwide bought into her vision.”
But as the business made some missteps Lyons cut back her personal appearances.
“Jenna Lyons took an unfair dive for J. Crew; her self-promoting, self-obsessed ways made her an easy target,” Sehdev said. “But it was also exactly those self-promoting, self-obsessed ways that took a forgettable brand and turned it into a global phenomenon.”
In general, he said fashion brands are not changing quickly enough, with too many promoting their goods in the old ways.
“Perfection is passé,” Sehdev said. “Millennials are bored by perfection. Vulnerability is where it’s at. It’s a future that’s very liberated, where people are free to express what they really think and feel and they’re not ashamed to speak their mind.”
More from WWD: