We all know how a great match between product and brand ambassador can result in great sales and even iconic advertisements — Kate Moss for Calvin Klein, Isabella Rossellini for Lancome Trésor, etc. But what happens when a great match is made initially, but then the ambassador’s reputation falters or becomes uncertain?
You know what I’m getting at in this case — Kanye and Yeezy resell madness. How is the popularity of Yeezy sneakers still so explosive when Kanye has committed painful schadenfreude after painful schadenfreude on social media in the last two weeks? Why do consumers want to associate themselves with someone who at best displays incredibly poor judgement when speaking, and at worse is tens of millions of dollars in debt and on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown?
I think the answer here is two-pronged — an instance of absurd good luck that paired a good product and its narcissistic personality disorder Frankenstein with a forgiving public with an appetite for rarity and athleisure.
First, the product is remarkably good and strategically scarce. The Boost 350, which was released exactly a year ago, originally retailed for $200, but now are as much as $1,500 new for certain colors on Ebay; around 500 pair of the new Boost 750 were released to lucky fans last weekend, and have been sold for as much as $5,400 online. It’s a great looking shoe and scarce enough to stir up hype independent of Kanye: it’s a Yeezy before it’s an Adidas or Kanye West product. It appears that if the product is truly good and can create its own identity in pop culture, it doesn’t matter if the face of the brand is in a period of uncertain personal brand coding: sales will remain strong.
Secondly, I think perhaps people think of the face of a brand in more of an archetypal way, taking his or her entire career into consideration when deciding what the ambassador means in the culture, rather than deploying an up-to-the-moment pop-culture analysis of his or her actions. Consumers and Yeezy fans look at Kanye as someone who has been a successful, if megalomanic, entertainer for ten years, who courts controversy as part of his personality — and this recent series of stunts will be an inconsequential blip on his oeuvre.
Another example of this long-term archetypal thinking is Johnny Depp being selected to serve as the face of Dior’s Eau Sauvage cologne this fall. Once the embodiment of a filthy strain of cool, in the last two years or so has become a punchline, a bloated caricature of himself hurtling toward a midlife crisis all pistons firing. And yet, I thought to myself, who else could be Dior’s elegant savage? Only Depp, or at least, the legacy of Depp (and the photoshopped version of Depp in the ads) fit the bill. It turns out the public agrees with me — Eau Sauvage was the number one men’s fragrance in most countries where it was distributed in 2015 after its launch in September of the same year. Even though he’s making a fool of himself in the tabloids just right now, his archetype remains intact in the public’s mind.
And the media doesn’t care as much about the embarrassing antics of West and Depp because the two are male entertainers. Although they aren’t representing the brands they are fronting well, they’ve faced no consequences from sale outcome or industry bosses. When Kate Moss was photographed doing cocaine in 2005, the speed with which the axe fell was incredible: not only did she loose nearly all of her contracts, but was blistered in the media for months. (I did benefit from this incident by writing about it in my SAT essay, which, if memory serves, garnered a perfect score,) Men certainly have it easier when representing a label — their personal brand archetypes aren’t subject to as much scrutiny as women’s are. Depp is a walking advertisement for substance abuse and overindulgence, but faces no consequences except for ridicule on gossip sites.
The success of Yeezy is a special case, a marketing miracle, because it’s a perfect storm of a great product that has taken on a life of its own beyond its creator, and a product that is fronted by a man whose long entertainement legacy can make up for his current actions. If even one of these layers were not intact, I don’t think Yeezy would see the kind of success that it currently –and will continue to–experience. I don’t recommend this combination of insane marketing elements for any other label, but for Yeezus, it’s only fitting.