When Murketing Gets Personal

Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you have heard by now about how Kim Kardashian filed for divorce from her husband of a whopping 72 days, Kris Humphries. What’s even more shocking than the brevity of their marriage is the fact that it has become headline “news”. It’s so newsworthy that my Journalism professor included a question about the length of their marriage on a pop quiz about current events. Scary? I think so. But the whole issue of  the increasing prevalence  and attention focused on “soft” news is an entirely different issue that I’m not going to even begin to address here.

So why am I bringing this up? It’s no secret that the entire Kardashian clan is all about branding. The family name has become a brand, and they have transformed their family into a Kardashian empire, tapping into reality TV, clothing lines, perfume lines, books, boutiques, Quick Trim ads….the list goes on and on. While they aren’t shy about hiding the fact that they have stamped their name on basically any product they can get their hands on, I wonder if perhaps they have a few slightly….murky tricks up their (designer) sleeves.

There has been a lot of speculation that Kim’s marriage was a money making hoax, publicity stint, etc. I’m not going to make any comment or judgement about her motivation behind her marriage, whether or not she gave the marriage a try, etc. I’m in no position to judge given I don’t know the facts. However, I do want to objectively point to a few things. For example, while news of the divorce came out this past Monday (October 31st), two days later Kim was in Australia with sister, Khloe, to promote an Australian-exclsuive Kardashian Kollection Handbag launch. Also, their mother, Kris Jenner, released a new book, entitled “Kris Jenner…and All Things Kardashian”  this past Tuesday, November 1st. Hmmm……seems like an awful lot of promotional ventures were scheduled for the Kardashian clan right around the date that Kim filed for divorce. I’m not saying she purposely filed for divorce the same week as the launch of this exclusive handbag collection or her mother’s book, but it sure did generate even more attention than normal around the entire family at what seems like a pretty convenient time from a promotional standpoint.

Intentional or not, the divorce announcement seemed to me like a nice murky cover under which to efficively promote their respective products. For example, Kris Jenner  went on The Today Show in order to “Defend Her Daughter….And Promote Her New Book!” as blogger Perez Hilton so aptly titles the clip. As he suggests, it appears that Kris is taking advantage of the attention the public is casting on the family  as a result of the divorce news to promote a book that would most likely not generate a whole of lot media buzz (I mean another tell-all-book….really?)

Following suit, Kim herself and Khloe appeared on Australia’s Sunrise morning TV show to talk about the divorce, and oh yea, promote their handbag line. As you can see from the video still below, the duo cleverly left a few handbags from the collection on the table. While neither the news anchors or either of the Kardasians make reference to them, it seems like murky product placement to me.

In a landscape cluttered with consumer products, it’s pretty hard for any one product to stand out. We have mentioned already how Rob Walker describes this phenomena as “the pretty good problem.” He describes branding as the key to solving it. In the case of the Kardashians, clearly they have mastered the art of branding. What’s more, it seems that they have have figured out yet another way (and a murky one) to help their products stand out in this cluttered landscape- controversy. It also seems that they have found a way to use their personal lives as a vehicle for marketing. Very, very murky.

On College Campuses

I would like to think my college campus is unique in its own right with the homey location, diverse student body, party scene, interesting academic classes, and the many opportunities to get involved all over campus. However, when it comes to student groups and organizations it’s different. If other schools are like mine then every club is competing against one another and vying for the attention of potential members from newcomers and oldcomers alike.

With personal experience being in a student run culture club, not only are we trying to recruit enthusiastic individuals who share similar interests and will serve the club but we also work to host a variety of interesting events throughout the year. You would think that after the pandemonium of student fairs it would get easier right? Well, think again. Throughout the year numerous events are held and it’s not uncommon to have at least five events in one day. A student on campus has many choices to choose from. So how does one club stand out more than the others?

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Student organizations and groups remind me a lot like the consumer market these days. You could even say that like markets today, it’s overcrowded with too many choices and as Buying In’s author Walker addresses in his book as the ‘Pretty Good’ problem, the events put on by these various student clubs are pretty good in quality.

Yet, the way they are able to distinguish from each other is the onslaught of advertising that goes on around campus via Facebook, campus news publication, and the main method of all, flyers and posters. Just by walking around campus, one is exposed to the fliers that decorate the walls in academic buildings, dining halls, designated flier areas like the steps by our main library. The ones that get noticed go between the very unique and what people find recognizable.

Take these two fliers, one from the Japanese Culture club I’m apart of and one from UC Berkeley. What do these two have in common?

Answer is the use of iconic images or brands from TV shows and movies.

We are hardly aware of doing it but we use marketing used on us to market our own messages. In the case of my club’s flier, beyond Pikachu being of Japanese origin and the main character of a popular show amongst children and young adult fans, it has little to do with the club’s actual intentions, whi is bringing uncommon knowledge about the culture, practices, and history of Japan to the student body while UC Berkeley’s objective is to attract a crowd to discuss racial issues.

I’m sure like many school’s clubs out there, we do it because we know others will have an easier time associating to something they’ve seen before than to something that’s unfamiliar to them. It’s a habit that we’re all guilty of.

Trust Me, I’m a Doctor

It’s no secret that magazines are chock full of advertisements. However, when I was reading the November issue of Glamour magazine (don’t judge- it’s a guilty pleasure), I noticed that there seemed to be three main ad categories- a tier of advertising so to speak. Within this tier, I noticed varying levels of murky-ness.

The first category I was able to discern consisted of the majority of the ads (and probably the magazine itself). If I could guestimate, I would say that 80% of the magazine was full of your basic, blatant, full page print ads. Murky level: 0%  Here are two  examples:


T
he second ad category I noticed appeared throughout the magazine at a lower frequency than these full page, traditional ads, but were still fairly common. The interesting thing about this category is that they are much more subtle. In the example below, you can tell that the ad mimics the format of a magazine article, using similar fonts, colors, and cleverly titling the section “November notebook.” It seems as if the advertisers are really trying to trick you into thinking that their ads are not ads, but a part of the magazine. In fact, just by briefly flipping through the magazine, I thought they were at first. The giveaways? 1) The fact that Glamour puts the word “advertisement” at the top of each of these “fake-feature ads” and 2) once you actually read it, it’s pretty clear what it is.

Murky level: 50% – Example below (not the word “advertisement” at the very top).

Finally, the third category of ads I noticed was what I’m going to term the “interview- ad.” One example of this is an article called “Meet the Rock-Star Dermatologists: L.A. Edition.” Basically, it’s a series of mini interviews with five “superstar” dermatologists who offer advice on “skin-beautifying tips,” and tell amusing anecdotes about themselves and their celeb clients. However, what I found most interesting about the section was not how drinking a glass of water before bedtime hydrates your skin, but how there were so many product plugs in the “interviews” with the dermatologists. For example, in the interview with “The Skin Cancer Guru” Dr. Lisa Chipps (picture below), it says “Dr. Chipps likes Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Sunblock SPF 50 ($13, at drugstores) as an everyday first line of defense. ‘It’s also very important to use products that will reverse damage that has already been done…she adds’ ”

While reading this, I was skeptical. Does Dr. Chipps actually likes this product, or is that just what the magazine decides that she likes? It’s interesting how the writer followed that statement about the sunscreen with a direct quote from Chipps, to create the illusion that the product plug was coming from Chipps directly. The article targets the other dermatologists as well. Another Example? ” ‘Glycolic pads are an addordable way to exfoliate dead skin cells at home’ says Dr. Zaks. He likes Topix Glycolix Elite Treatment Pads 10% ($19 for 60, dermstore.com).” The article also features “5 Things the Derms Love” – a photo section with the doctor’s top products pics.

Murky level: 95%

The interesting thing about this ad is that these dermatologists aren’t spokespeople for the brands mentioned in the article (as far as I can tell) . They aren’t the face of the brand (hahah pun not intended) nor do any of their names bring a particular brand to mind (like Queen Latifah and CoverGirl, for example). Perhaps that is what makes this kind of advertising so effective- it seems more credible and suggests that they support these products because they work, not because they are getting paid to do so (although I would be curious to know if there is any sort of financial compensation involved to the doctors or the magazine for these product plugs).

We live in an age where consumers are faced with the “pretty good problem,” a phenomena described by Walker as one where it is hard to distinguish among the plethora of available products, all of which are similar in terms of utility and style. For example, there are countless skin care products on the market. When it comes to something like sunscreen, the “Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Sunblock” is probably the exact same thing in terms of quality and function as one made by Coppertone. Yet, as Walker discusses, it is the brand and the brand image that sets products apart in this new age. By associating brands like Neutrogena with dermatologists,  it doesn’t define the brand meaning, but consumers may be more likely to buy Neutrogena if it is associated with the expertise and backing of a dermatologist. This ad takes advantage of the power of reputable expertise in persuasion- yet you may not realize that it is happening. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor.”