Earlier this week, someone posted a fully clothed picture of Khloé Kardashian to social media that featured lighting she did not like, so she used her vast financial resources and access to teams of legal representatives to have the picture removed. That is both the entire story and a jumping-off point for a larger marketing push allowing the Kardashian family to do what they do best: Spin a days-long story out of nothing.
On Easter Sunday, the Kardashian/Jenner sisters celebrated the holiday by publishing obviously edited photographs of themselves in swimsuits to social media. According to tabloid rumor and cease and desists posted to Twitter, the bikini photo Khloé did not like was posted by Kardashian/Jenner grandmother MJ Shannon. However, a statement by Tracy Romulus, chief marketing officer of Kim Kardashian’s KKW Brands, claims the “private” picture was accidentally released into the world in error by “an assistant”:
“The color edited photo was taken of Khloé during a private family gathering and posted to social media without permission by mistake by an assistant,” the statement to Page Six read. “Khloé looks beautiful but it is within the right of the copyright owner to not want an image not intended to be published taken down.”
Page Six also reports that several accounts which reposted the photo were asked to remove the “unauthorized” image under threat of legal action. The same photo which was, if the statement from Romulus is to be believed, posted by a member of the Kardashian team. These threats coupled with the fact that the Kardashians’ marketing strategist released a statement to the media, a move that drew international attention to the photo the family ostensibly wanted to hide, kept Khloé on the front page of both gossip blogs and women’s magazines for two days. In addition to the photo itself, the marketing team’s statement about the photo kicked off a “debate” about whether Khloé’s photograph was good or bad for the body positivity movement, just long enough for sister Kim to claim those spots by announcing her own forthcoming skincare line.
Nearly as soon as the Page Six post ran, The Daily Mail, The Sun, and all the other usual gossip suspects both pointed out that the unretouched photo obviously looks different from other, professionally edited images of Kardashian, while carefully counterbalancing those insights with comments from fans about how great Kardashian looked. In response to those posts, women’s media outlets got in on the action, opining on the photo by insisting that it shouldn’t be reported on:
“The body acceptance movement is in desperate need of a pivot,” a blog post at Glamour called “Kholé Kardashian Is Allowed to Not Want That Unedited Photo of Herself on the Internet” read. “We need to stop putting celebrities on pedestals and reacting aversely when they don’t behave in the exact manner we expect. Let’s let people be people. Let them detox or not. Let them post that picture or not. And let’s not drag them one way or the other for it.”
The post declares that Khloé Kardashian should be allowed to sue Reddit users for sharing a bikini picture that presumably was at one point shared publicly, albeit by “mistake.” It also scolds that some undefined “we” should stop reacting “aversely” to the behavior of a celebrity whose social media serves as one of their primary marketing vehicles while also carefully maintaining that “body diversity” is important, just not in this particular situation, presumably unless representatives for Kardashian say it is.
This carefully measured response effectively declaring that Kardashian is right even if she is wrong sounds very like the advice brand leadership expert Denise Lee Yohn had for General Mills after podcaster and comedian Jensen Karp claimed via social media that he had found shrimp tails in his Cinnamon Toast Crunch:
“[P]ublic messages from the company shouldn’t have challenged or refuted Karp’s claims, says Yohn. “Regardless of whether or not there was any real basis for his claims, it’s the perception that matters,” she says. “People trust other people more than they trust companies – and they don’t like when companies seem to be bullying or diminishing other people.”
All the players in each of these scenarios are “brands.” Karp’s social media accounts exist to promote his comedy and podcasts, just as Kardashian’s exists to promote her clothing line and television shows, General Mills exists to sell processed foods, and celebrity gossip outlets and websites (this one included) exist to sell ads by getting people to look at their articles. Just as Karp hoped to earn attention by crafting a narrative with his social media post, Kardashian and her marketing team hoped to shape a narrative by issuing a statement to Page Six. General Mills dropped the marketing ball, according to experts, by publicly questioning Karp’s established narrative instead of “Yes and-ing” the story to prove it takes complaints seriously. Glamour adeptly avoided the pitfall of being accused of either not taking body positivity or leaked photographs seriously by picking up the threads of “anti-feminism” Kardashian’s team was dropping, then adding “Yes, and” body positivity is important.
Unlike General Mills, this response deftly refuses to challenge the idea that Khloé Kardashian can be a face of the body positivity movement by marketing her line of activewear as representing “body acceptance” while insisting that all images of herself be digitally altered and modified to her specifications. Simultaneously, it applauds the idea that celebrities are right in refusing to be held to any standards, beyond the standards to which they have expressly agreed to be held. Because, the argument concludes, celebrities should not be placed on a “pedestal” in the first place. The clever maneuvering around the challenge Khloé Kardashian’s marketing officer set was a smart move for Glamour’s brand, which obviously sought to comment on the matter without “bullying or diminishing other people.”
Of course, just two weeks after the shrimp tail scandal broke and marketing gurus rushed in to teach the lessons other brands should learn from the entire nonsense debacle, reports emerged that Jensen Karp faced allegations of emotional abuse from former romantic partners, idea theft from former business partners, and insinuation that the entire story was a marketing stunt in the first place. Two weeks after the shrimp tail story was all over social media, no one really cares anymore about the cereal or the allegations. And after two days of headlines of the bikini pictures kicked off by a statement from the Kardashian’s marketing team, a new story, this one about Kim launching her own skincare line, is making the rounds, with Glamour tweeting the news beneath a caption that reads “We should have seen it coming!” We really should have. Because in the marketing team to news story pipeline, it never fucking stops.