The matriarch of America’s most famous TV family is the chief financial officer of Kylie Cosmetics (Kylie’s multihyphenate roles include founder, chief executive officer, chief marketing officer and chief creative officer), which launched with a bang on Nov. 30, 2015 with the brand’s now signature Kylie Lip Kits. Shortly thereafter, the cosmetics range became a fully realized, multiproduct assortment, with a constant stream of new product dropping — and selling out in record time.
Kris Jenner told WWD in August that the almost two-year-old company did $420 million in retail sales in just 18 months. For 2017, the company is projected to do $386 million in retail sales, a 25 percent increase from 2016. Already, Kylie Cosmetics nabbed a valuation upwards of $1 billion.
Thanks are in order to give to social media. Today, Jenner — who set Instagram abuzz Monday when daughter Kim posted a photo of her mother lounging in a silk pajama set with what looked like newly platinum blonde hair — herself has 18 million followers on Instagram (her signature pixie cut was back to black on Tuesday). Kim has 103 million followers on Instagram, Kylie has 98.8 million followers, Kendall has 84.1 million, and, well, you get the picture.
In a conversation with longtime friend Tommy Hilfiger during WWD’s CEO Summit on Tuesday afternoon, Hilfiger referred to Jenner as “her own marketing and pr department…and she does it all through social media.”
“So many businesses have such a huge marketing budget…[and] what’s so interesting is that [my children] are their own marketing team. The whole marketing budget they need is the price of a smartphone,” Jenner said of social media taking the place of traditional advertising channels.
Oddly enough, it was Ryan Seacrest — coproducer of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” — who spurred the Kardashian-Jenner clan’s early adoption of the social platforms, Jenner recounted to Hilfiger, adding that Seacrest initially told Kim that Twitter was something “you might want to pay attention to.”
“It was remarkable how many people followed them and were hanging on to their every experience, good or bad.…They became emotionally invested in the family through the show and then the business…but social media became the single most important thing that we had as a tool to be able to build and grow a business,” Jenner said.
She credited a “perfect storm” in 2007 — the integration of Twitter into the family’s life around the same time that they started shooting the first season of the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” which was also smack in the middle of a Hollywood writers’ strike — with transforming and catapulting the Kardashian Jenner family into superstardom. Fortunately, this confluence of events allowed for Jenner and her children to maintain a dialogue and communicate directly with fans from the very beginning.
Also: Jenner believes that the range of age groups within the family — she herself is a Baby Boomer; Kourtney, Kim and Khloé are Millennials and Kendall and Kylie are Gen Z — ensures that viewers connect with at least one Kardashian-Jenner.
“We’ve been so real and authentic in what we show on our show…we don’t have scripts, we don’t have things that we come up with because we want to entertain somebody. We’re actually doing a reality show about our lives.…When people watch us, they’ve seen us get married, get divorced, have babies.…There’s a certain familiarity that the kids, you know, [and] each one of them has people that follow their every move and want to be a part of their lives, and with the ability to have the show on the air, which is definitely the foundation of a lot of our business, we also have the ability to have a whole personal side on social media that was not even in existence years ago,” Jenner explained, adding, “I keep track of my kids sometimes with social media. I have to check TMZ every morning to see what’s going on and then at night I go to bed with Snapchat.”
Today, the family has a combined 750 million followers across all the social platforms they’re active upon. The show, which just started filming its 15th season (at the ceo summit during Jenner’s chat with Hilfiger), is aired in 167 countries. Jenner revealed on Tuesday that a long-term contract with E! was just inked, so the show won’t be going anywhere soon.
“Kim was the one who taught us how to use Twitter and how to engage and really capture the attention of followers and the fans,” Jenner said. “[We learned that] if we start Tweeting and getting on social media and Instagramming…[using] Snapchat …all those wonderful social media platforms, you can see the spike in ratings in the show… It’s remarkable how when you do use social media as a marketing tool how a brand can explode, and that’s so amazing to see that happen in real-time. It’s fascinating.”
She stated that Kim was the first to use the platform to help grow her namesake Kim Kardashian fragrance business by using crowdsourcing to ask followers about different bottle options. This showed Jenner that one could involve “everyone out there” instantaneously, and it was then that Jenner surrendered to social media even though it “wasn’t the way things usually happen in retail.”
For Jenner, helping her children build brands became her passion.
“The kids had amazing intuition, they knew what they wanted to do.…Any passion, anything they wanted. My role was helping my kids find their dream, and when anybody came to me and said, ‘I’d love to try this,’ or ‘I’d love to have a clothing line’…they love fashion…they love beauty,” Jenner said. “I knew what would make sense and be so easy for them to do and that would resonate with the people that are watching this show….I just wanted to make sure they were doing something they loved for the rest of their lives.”
She gave an example: when Kendall was 15 years old, she declared she wanted to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel. Jenner was figuring out how to make this happen when she was flying home from New York one day and watched a documentary that featured Russell James, most well-known for his work with Victoria’s Secret. After learning that he was “the guy who really discovered the Victoria’s Secret models,” Jenner was determined to find a way to reach James. She found his number and left a voicemail, and lo and behold, James eventually called her back while she was in San Diego having lunch with her mom (while shooting an episode of “KUWTK,” obviously). Ten days later, James came to Jenner’s home, met Kendall and told mom and daughter, “I can’t wait to work with her [Kendall].”
Fast-forward several years to the inception of Kylie Cosmetics, which Jenner likened to the fast fashion of the beauty industry. While Kylie’s name was attached to the product, it’s unlikely the brand would have had the explosive launch it did if not for Kylie’s posting about the launch to her millions of followers.
And mom Kris, who from the moment she realized the two had a “viable business on our hands” with Kylie Lip Kits, was set on creating Kylie Cosmetics. The fulfillment center they used initially couldn’t get the product out fast enough and Kris Jenner went on a mission to find a manufacturer that could handle the sales volume and have the ability to ship right from the facility.
“Before we knew it, Kylie was talking to her fans and followers and every single social media platform that she had was so receptive to this brand. It just exploded,” Jenner said.
As for what is next, Jenner said she might like one day to launch her own clothing line. She also hinted that she and Hilfiger are exploring the concept of allowing viewers to buy directly from the show by using their smartphones. Hilfiger admitted they were in talks with potential partners, to which Jenner said, “Any further questions just direct them to Tommy, my spokesperson.”