Bob Garfield

Can a partnership with the Kardashians save this brand?

This major company is hoping the popularity of the Kardashians will attract sales. Will it be enough to save an ailing brand?

The dilemma: an aging retail company needs to hit it big. The executive team decides to partner with one of the top-trending "brands" of 2011: The Kardashians. Upside: major name recognition, and any web search including "Kardashian" might generate a banner ad for the company. The downside: it's an unpredictable party to work with.

The company is Sears, and the story is real. Here's what happened.

One might argue that Sears was the original Amazon. Once upon a time they were a cutting-edge service that delivered whatever you needed, right to your door. But recent headlines about Sears read more like a reality TV show synopsis: stores closing, stock downgraded, and save-the-day new executive hires.

A recent Forbes article lists changes ailing giant Best Buy needs to make to survive. Let's apply the same lessons to Sears (I've changed the wording).

1. Major digital integration. Like, yesterday.
2. Cool products your customers are excited about
3. New cool messaging

Sears partnered with the Kardashians to launch a new product line


Sears did $40 billion in sales last year (strong, but down from $50 billion the year before). And their customers are loyal to the company's reliable brands like Kenmore, Craftman and Lands' End. If Sears makes the right new business decisions, is this a strong enough customer base to grow from? 

Can digital marketing save Sears?

Sears VP-president Dave Friedman has been busy. Let's start with the bad news: he already has an end date. The company apparently isn't ready for all the changes he's trying to push. Now the good news: he's managed to launch some cool new ideas. Here's a big one.

The project had all the right elements: a Kardashian "Kollection" apparel line, with Annie Leibovitz shooting the ad campaign. A true "tra-digital" (traditional/digital) initiative that included digital marketing, SEO strategy, TV advertising, and partnering with E!'s "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" to show Kim, Kourtney, and Khloé hand selecting items for the Sears lineup.

How did the TV partnership happen? Here's CMO Dave telling Questus' Joey Dumont about the process. (1:00)


And how did it go? (0:31)


If a company can't accept change, no digital marketing campaign can save it. Here's Dave discussing the challenge of being a "save the day" CMO. (1:06)


Bonus clip: Dave has been at the helm on both the agency side, and the client side. Here's his top advice for bringing new ideas to brands. (1:35)



Despite initial positive reports, the negative press keeps rolling in, and almost 300,000 consumers have signed a petition to boycott companies that partner with Kim Kardashian. (Though other brands keep lining up to partner with the three sisters.) VP-president Dave Friedman is off to bigger and better things, and Sears is closing 80 Sears and Kmart stores this month.

But we don't know the end of the story yet. Best of luck to this retail mainstay, and to the rest of us who are looking for new ways to connect with audiences and customers.