Consider this: Out of a sex tape flourishes a brand that becomes the linchpin for three TV shows, a clothing boutique, books and a wedding whose rights sold for $17.9 million.
Marketers, you should take notes.
The Kardashian clan may look out of place on Ad Age's Marketer A-List, but we can assure you it deserves to be here. The self-absorbed and extraordinarily good-looking family has America glued to its TV screens all year. In a brilliant bit of scheduling, season hiatuses on "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" are filled with spinoffs such as "Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami" and "Kourtney and Kim Take New York."
The fifth season of "Keeping Up" bagged measured ad spending of $28.7 million, according to Kantar, and attracted 3 million viewers a week. Miami's second season took in $11 million and New York's first season took in just over $13 million. Four million people watched the two-part E! special, "Kim's Fairytale Wedding," which told the story of the run-up to Kim Kardashian's (short-lived) marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries.
And the clan's mother hen, manager and executive producer Kris Jenner (married to Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner), certainly perceives the family as a brand, with herself acting as CMO.
"For the kids to be working in this industry is a dream come true, because they love shoes and clothes and perfumes," she said. "They're a lifestyle brand, and it's a perfect fit."
But the TV shows chronicle everything about the brand, good and bad. Most marketers would balk at the idea of such transparency, but Ms. Jenner maintains that this is what makes it work. "People love looking at the growth of a brand," she said. "I gave birth to six kids, and now I'm giving birth to this."
It was a brand repositioning for the books. "Keeping Up," helmed by Ms. Jenner and co-executive producer Ryan Seacrest, premiered in late 2007, just months after Kim's sex tape with singer Ray J was leaked. The show was presented as a look at a well-meaning, if a bit crazy, all-American family—a "Brady Bunch" for the 21st century.
The family's riches also come from their sprawling fitness and supplemental businesses. Quick Trim, the weight-loss business endorsed by Kim, reportedly made $45 million in 2010.
The clan also has PerfectSkin, an as-seen-on-TV beauty line. There's also Dash, the clothing stores launched by Kim and Khloe in 2006. And in August, the Kardashians launched midrange clothing line the Kardashian Kollection at Sears.
The Kardashians have managed all this despite a lack of any outstanding talent. They'll try anything once, whether it's a shot on "Dancing With the Stars" or a perfume line, and if it fails, so be it. Kim can't act, dance or sing—and we know, because she's tried her hand at all three—and yet is famous just for being famous. This year, Kim ranks second on Brand Keys' annual Celebrity Index, which ranks consumer engagement with stars, up from fourth last year. She is especially highly ranked on the driver dealing with brand extension, seen as "opportunistic" and "ambitious."
You have to applaud the Kardashians for their tenacity. Even as Kim announced a separation from Mr. Humphries, Ms. Jenner was readying to go on air to model the Kardashian Kollection and talk about her memoir. The next day, Kardashian Khaos, a one-stop shop that is a giant celebration of all things Kardashian, opened in Las Vegas.