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Content Marketing & SEO Blog

Blog about startup growth strategies revolving around content marketing, SEO, CRO, and social media marketing.

Kanye West, the brilliant marketer we love to hate

Sean Smith

Kanye West recently teamed up with French clothing brand A.P.C. to release his own "high fashion" clothing line. The most lucrative piece of all of this is that the "high fashion" shirt he is selling for $120 is a PLAIN WHITE TEE. Literally, no gimmicks. A plain white tee. The kicker? His apparel sold out practically instantaneously. It flew off the shelves (or out of the online warehouses) and practically broke the internet. His idiotically priced shirt nailed him a top page mention on Reddit as well as on countless other news sources, fashion communities and blogging networks.

The interesting part though is that when you really drill into the psychology, and the strategy he used, it's actually rather genius. I would nail the success of this line down to 5 key points: controversy, publicity, exclusivity, demand, and Kanye's personal background. 

Background

The success of this clothing line is highly attributed (obviously) to Kanye's personal background. If you or I came out with a clothing line and put up a $120 price tag on our t-shirts the masses would belt out a resounding "piss off" but because it's Kanye it seems almost run-of-the-mill ordinary. Kanye has long been at the forefront of hip-hop's fashion limelight, being shown on GQ and the lot. 

He has a background of fashion, people acknowledge that he's an "icon" in some regard. So when he drops a line of clothing, people are bound to take a look and that's all he needed.

Controversy

He also has a background of being immensely controversial, and sticking by his guns. He didn't mind calling the former President a racist on national television or stealing the microphone from T-Swift to give some shout-out love to Beyonce. But how does that tie in to clothing?

Controversy is to Kanye what Champion is to Muhammad Ali, it's just what he is. It just so happens that controversy is one of the most incredibly powerful marketing tactics there are. The fact that Kanye lives and breathes controversy makes him selling anything other than a controversial product absolutely irrelevant. It would be like if Ali had bounced around the ring yelling "I'm sort of good!" No Ali, you're the fucking greatest. 

Kanye has actually brought out a few high-fashion bits in the past that were actually scorned on the runway for being a bit mediocre, or just not unique enough. The interesting bit is that these pieces of apparel were VERY "original" in their own right. Had they been made by a different designer they probably would have caught more notice, though from Kanye? It just was just expected.

To be massively noticed it had to be something that was so obviously not of worth (a plain white tee) and then price tagged at such an absolutely obscene amount that it was so controversial it couldn't go un-noticed. That's him, that's what will sell, that's what sold.

Publicity

As said before the second the products launched, it was noticed due to Kanye's fame and background then blew up with publicity due to the controversial nature of it. Getting to the first page of Reddit in front of over 30,000,000 users, being featured on major news outlets and fashion communities and publications and the works. Absolutely free exposure to MILLIONs of people all due to the controversial nature of his overpriced product. 

Exclusivity

The brilliance of this price-tactic is that through exclusivity of a product you polarize your audience. Why all women want Luis Vuitton, Coach and Michael Kors purses, all mid-twenties, want-to-be-rappers and club-going-fist-pumpers wanted a Kanye shirt. For every person who says "that is absolutely idiotic, anyone that buys one has the IQ of an alcoholic jelly-fish" there are an equal number of people who have actually bought one. 

Considering the markup on a $120 plain white tee I'm pretty sure that if he sold 15 of them he would be getting his money back. But he sold out, nearly instantly. 

Demand

The exclusivity of the product made an immense demand. As well as this he didn't come out with a bunch of different variations or colors, he came out with one version of one shirt. Take it or leave it, an almost Apple-esk approach to tee-shirts.

"Selling out" of an item like this creates it's own major "supply and demand" fix. It wouldn't have been hard for him to have stockpiled these shirts to a massive end. The fact is that he wanted it to sell out, to create a higher demand and make his products more exclusive. Now every jumped-up-idiot running around in his $120 shirts have something to talk about, "Hey this shirt is that Kanye tee, yeah the one that sold out, yeah it's pretty badass." 

Profit

You're already rich and famous, what would it matter if it failed? If it's bold enough to work though (which it was) it will work well.

The fact is that he had to sell at an enormous price point to even be noticed. Had he sold t-shirts at $20, $30, or even $50 people wouldn't have raised an eyebrow and they would probably have ended up on a rack at Kohl's or something.

Instead, an insane price point, a limited selection (meaning one selection), limited supply, high controversy, his own personal track record of being a narcissistic over-publicized jackass and BOOM, recipe for apparel success.

I really have to hand it to Kanye, he hit the nail on the head with this and it is true business genius given his own circumstances. Seeing as you can't really apply the formula he used directly to anything you make unless you are also a celebrity fashion icon who likes to call people racists this blog post may seem a bit irrelevant. It isn't. 

Define what is unique to you that you could play off of for your product, or a spokesperson that you would like for your product, or just the personas you would like to hit with your product. Design a strategy around that whatever the case may be and be absolutely real with yourself, as it is apparent that Kanye has with this campaign…

or just open up an e-commerce store with $120 plain white tees. 

Boom, profit.