Kendall Jenner is a triple threat whose brand is thrice-threatened.
The supermodel, digital player and reality star seems stuck in a pattern of negative press and social media outrage over numerous professional endeavors gone horribly wrong. Less than a week ago, Vogue India published its 10th anniversary issue with Jenner as its cover star. Critics immediately took to Twitter to mock and criticize the use of a white American celebrity for such a milestone.
What might normally be a toe-stub (and normally might have been one only for the magazine’s editors) compounded a weekslong embarrassment tour for Jenner, following the mess of Fyre Fest in late April and the collective eye roll over her resistance-themed Pepsi campaign. It threatens her status as a model, influencer and cultural ambassador.
“What’s interesting about these different occasions is that it’s really coming from the three spaces she’s working in,” said Rajiv Menon, director of Cultural Strategy at the brand consultancy Civic Entertainment Group. “Pepsi is about her commercial model appeal, Fyre Fest is about her as an influencer and Vogue India is somewhere she should be resting at the intersection of high fashion and culture.”
But each project backfired, none moreso than the Pepsi spot. It became an international punchline and “Saturday Night Live” fodder, a face-palming moment so overwhelming that the company was moved to apologize to Jenner and pull the ad from circulation.
Fyre Fest paid Jenner a reported $250,000 to hype the event long before participants arrived to a Bahamian island and found insufficient lodging, food and water supplies and cancelled music acts. (Other influencers like Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski were also hired). Any individual customer swayed to purchase Fyre Fest tickets following Jenner’s endorsement could potentially sue her, one legal expert told Fortune magazine.
Jenner ranked No. 3 on Forbes’ 2016 list of top-earning reality stars, raking in $17 million for the calendar year. On top of her paycheck from E!, she held endorsements with brands like Estee Lauder, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Fendi and Topshop.
But the mounting offenses raise questions about the success of Team Kendall. Jenner’s mother Kris Jenner acts as her business manager. New York-based Society Management books her as a model. Kendall has a Hollywood rep in WME, though they solely handle the whole family’s TV interests with the E! network.
Many have weighed in to suggest Jenner needs new advisers — but not all are just trolls. Alec Baldwin offered his two cents on Twitter, encouraging people to “blame her management” and labelling the star as “a very young, inexperienced woman in an awful business.”
One top executive who connects celebrities with brands thinks Jenner is “stuck in a bad news cycle,” and that she can recover over time.
“When it comes to deals for someone like her, there’s a large chance a brand will pitch you solely on concept. You film an ad or shoot a cover as one thing, and then, in the edit, you have a Pepsi situation on your hands,” said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“The real question for Kendall is, ‘Will this affect how she sells products?’ I’ll bet you dollars to donuts it won’t,” the executive said.
What handlers should be wary of is exactly what Kendall represents in the marketplace, the insider added.
“This girl has had a target on her back in terms of breaking into a higher cultural awareness. This family has been riddled with scandal in the past, and their brand is resilience. If this was Kim? It’d be an average Tuesday. She’s made a career of accepting negative press, bouncing back with full resilience and moving serious product,” the person said.
“Kendall straddles a messier line, she’s someone who wears couture but stars in ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’ and that’s a delicate balance that needs protecting,” the executive added. “These incidents will be amazing fodder and inspire sympathy on the reality show, but if she’s looking to be the next Gisele Bundchen? Repeated offenses become irreparable.”
Menon agreed Jenner has had “a bad couple of weeks in a really bad climate. People are looking for the butt of a joke.”
“Lately,” he concluded, “consumers are becoming a lot more savvy to the people who are pulling the strings.”