By: Tawanda Carlton, Account Executive

One of the world’s biggest stars, Kim Kardashian, recently sent the internet into a frenzy over her latest business venture, a shapewear line titled “Kimono,”… but not in a positive way.

The line, a play on her namesake, does not feature anything resembling the traditional Japanese dress, and it’s unveiling was met with claims of cultural appropriation, offensiveness, and disregard for Japanese tradition and history. The mayor of Kyoto even penned a letter to the business mogul asking her to rethink the trademark, saying Kimono “should not be monopolized.”

This story has played out on the worldwide stage giving this incident the perfectly punned hashtag #KimOhNo.

The recent events actually reveal two sides of the marketing coin, for many to examine and consider:

Is this a Marketing Fail?

This branding faux pas is something marketers should take into consideration and deciding on who their core audience is. Modern-day consumers are more intelligent, empowered and informed than ever before. By discounting their feelings and failing to listen, more brands will be forced to learn the hard way. The bottom line is being inclusive is a must. 

Kim did respond to the backlash by revealing in a recent interview with the WSJ Magazine, “You would think we would have obviously thought it through a little bit deeper. I’m the first person to say, OK, of course, I can’t believe we didn’t think of this. I obviously had really innocent intentions. But, let’s listen. And I want to really listen. And I want to really take it all in.”

Let this be a reminder to many marketers – new and seasoned –  that this type of mindset is something that should always be done on the front end and not on the tail of a backlash. It’s a lesson many brands, like Nike’s recent shoe release controversy, have learned through trial, error and by fire.

…Or Is this Genius?

While it may have sparked a notoriously negative uprising for Kim and her brand, many would argue this lapse in judgment has really made her all the more famous. One thing the Kardashian/Jenner clan has perfected over time is, well…their timing.  A golden egg in a marketer’s world, how and when you make your entry into the market is crucial.  Did you know that the shapewear industry is expected to hit more than $55 billion in sales by 2024? This sector of retail has literally gone from “undercover” to mainstream and brands are capitalizing from its rapid evolution. Additionally, Kim touts that her line has been in the works for the last 15 years, making it a perfect coincidence for her debut to occur, now. If anything, this move proves that timing, hype, and controversy can spark not only outrage but interest. Since the announcement, articles, think-pieces, and social commentary have run ramped across the internet discussing the much-awaited name change and what’s next for the brand. If anything, this #marketingfail has increased anticipation and some would call that a win.

What’s for certain in the aftermath of #KimOhNo is that inclusive marketing is something that should not be ignored. We’ve witnessed time and again where brands have failed to lead discussion and strategy with diverse thought and perspective around the decision-making table. Everyone knows leaving this component out never ends well. It has become advantageous – for both the consumer and organization – for brands to consider all aspects of how they market their product or service offering. hen a brand can be positioned in a positive light through meaningful customer buy-in, consumers, in turn, feel both valued and represented.