We take a closer look at the way West deftly uses social media to stay culturally relevant.
Kanye West has done it again. Through the overnight launch of a social media campaign for his Yeezy Season 6 collection, he has combined an astute sense for social media campaigning with the public’s persistent interest in his (and mainly his wife’s) life. What makes this interest so darn interesting is that it’s entirely manufactured.
The narrative of Kim Kardashian (now Kim Kardashian West) as former assistant to the original social media starlet, Paris Hilton, has been capitalised on through a social campaign that features Paris, and a host of her progeny—social media influencers who have walked the path she paved.
These social media stars are each photographed in Yeezy Season 6 outfits, in images that mirror a series of social media images taken by the paparazzi of Kim Kardashian West in December. It’s believed that West tipped off the paparazzi to photograph his wife, effectively capitalising on their predictable celebrity fervour and subsequent magazine coverage.
It’s a phenomenal leveraging of social media and the celebrity phenomena, and judging by the worldwide coverage it’s received, a truly clever example of how owned media can transform into earned media of a significant value, simply when you align the stars.
Breaking down the campaign strategy—opulent opportunism.
Knowing his wife’s incredible social media following, her value to the paparazzi in terms of saleable images, and her status as a genuine style influencer (the Kardashians have sold untold millions worth of products through strategic endorsements), West—no doubt with the assistance of a cracking strategic team—has devised a campaign that has required, one imagines, very little budget.
In traditional media parlance, this is a publicity stunt. But, what makes it interesting is that it’s an example of a campaign that’s only possible due to the confluence of several extraordinary factors—his own public image, his wife’s, and the narrative surrounding her relationship with Paris Hilton (who has a particular public image, and interest, of her own).
The paparazzi tip off has amounted to free photography and publicity; the leveraging of his wife’s social media currency ensured that the audience would not only be across social media, but that the sale of such images would result in prime placement in a spread of online and print media as well (and, no doubt, entertainment broadcasting). It’s a simple, clever idea that reveals how potent and how privileged his position is.
Why West is worth examining.
West has long been provoking cultural commentary, through his music, his public outbursts and his overt use of pop culture in his often confused (or confusing) messaging. From the wax figures in his ‘Famous’ video clip that included a mix of public figures who each have a personal connection to either his life or career (from Donald Trump to Taylor Swift), he clearly welcomes controversy. But, his message does not seem to have a clear agenda—it appears (at least to someone outside his tribe) to be erratic and without direction.
Yet, West prevails. Despite a barrage of public criticism, falling out of favour with many in his own industry (including the reported breakdown of his relationship with long-term supporter and collaborator, Jay Z), and a series of public outbursts, he remains.
What does this say about celebrity in the social media age?
Persistence appears to pay off. You don’t have to understand—or even like—West, but he is an intriguing example of how a brand, that in any other form would be considered vexatious, somehow manages to maximise its reach and maintain publicity in spite of this.
By choosing his wife’s narrative to be the vessel for this campaign, he has rewarded his audience with a delightful surprise (Paris as Kim). This, in its own way, reinforces the core values of West’s personal branding—he’s unpredictable. (He’s also clearly having fun.)
What this says about the aesthetics of his latest fashion collection is less clear, but given how he’s launched it, one can only assume he’s banking on the power of social influencers and celebrity to build its following. Like so many products today, it’s not necessarily the product itself that matters, but rather the effectiveness of its brand.
What is clear: this latest publicity stunt by West again shows that brands who can leverage a brand story, know their audience well enough to provide a rewarding brand experience, and understand the medium they are using, have a great opportunity to capitalise.
Of course, being as big as Kanye helps, but he has proven that despite all his media disasters, his mastery of branding is what really matters when it comes to mass publicity.