For retailers such as Sears and Pacific Sunwear, hiring the Kardashians as brand ambassadors looks more like a desperate grab for publicity amid their waning relevance, particularly among the teen set.
The link between retail purchases and the Kardashians is a dubious one, in part because people love to hate them. Yet that hasn’t stopped Sears from hiring Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe to advertise a Kardashian Kollection of clothing and accessories. Pacific Sunwear recently launched a clothing line with the somewhat less exposed and less disliked Kendall and Kylie Jenner, who are half-sisters of the more well-known Kashdashian girls.
According to Q Scores, an agency that measures the familiarity and appeal of celebrities with the general public, Kim Kardashian has an extraordinarily high awareness level of 73%, compared with 30% for the average celebrity. But she is viewed negatively by 63% of the people who are aware of her. A more normal “negative” number for a typical star is around 17%. Last measured a year ago, Kendall and Kylie scored an awareness level of 39%, with 58% of that being negative.
“I think it’s [more] a love to criticize,” said Henry Schafer, a spokesman for Q Scores. “If you’re a brand and you want to use them as a spokesperson, be prepared to deal with a spokesperson that’s going to create a polarizing effect on your consumers. Some people are going to love them, some people are not, but you will get noticed.”
Typically, retailers try to partner with a celebrity “that everyone loves to love,” such as Selena Gomez or Kate Hudson, said Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail in New York.
While the Kardashians and their family are stars, “the overexposure to their total life takes some of the star power off them,” she said.
But getting noticed is something Sears and PacSun desperately need. Sears has seen slumping sales since 2006, while PacSun has been working to regain relevance as rivals such as Zumiez and Tilly’s expand.
In hiring the Kardashians as celebrity endorsers, both retailers seems to be following the example of Bebe, another retailer with shaky performance that used the family for a collection.
PacSun CEO Gary Schoenfeld said on the company’s earnings call last week that working with Kendall and Kylie “is a lot of fun” and is helping to create “a lot of buzz and driving new customers.” At a conference in January, he touted their social media following, telling a roomful of investors and analysts that a recent Instagram post by Kendall got more than 200,000 “likes” within 24 hours. Schoenfeld said the pair could be a “catalyst” for its women’s business. The retailer posted a 2% rise in same-store sales in its latest year.
Sears says its “Kardashian Kollection” has allowed it to increase engagement with shoppers through digital and social channels and “enhanced in-store experiences,” according to Lana Krauter, president of Sears Apparel.
Krauter, however, declined to disclose the line’s sales figures beyond what was offered during the company’s recent shareholders’ meeting, where it said Sears Apparel had six straight quarters of comparable gains.
“We absolutely believe our relationship with the Kardashians has helped us deliver on our promise to bring the great fashion our customers want at an affordable price,” Krauter wrote in an emailed response to questions from Buzzfeed. “We can quantify that the brand has attracted a new customer to Sears and increased relevance among existing customers through the continued growth of business on our online channels.”
Still, a number of items in the collection appear to be discounted online.
Other retailers haven’t had much luck dealing with the Kardashian family, either, though the companies brought the problems on themselves.
Skechers, which hired Kim Kardashian and Kris Jenner to promote the Shape-Ups line of toning shoes throughout 2011, wasted money on the deal after the Federal Trade Commission said the products didn’t work as advertised and forced the company to pay $45 million to settle fraud allegations. Gap Inc. settled a lawsuit with Kim Kardashian last August after she accused Old Navy of using a lookalike of her in a TV ad. More recently, the family had to rename a makeup line sold at Ulta to “Kardashian Beauty” from “Khroma Beauty” after an accusation of trademark infringement.