Kim Kardashian West first grabbed our attention in October 2007 with the premiere of E!'s Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Who could have guessed where that basic-cable reality show moment would lead? Since then, Kim, 34, has entered that rare pantheon of mononymous celebrities. Like Madonna and Oprah, Pelé and Plato, it's just Kim—global trendsetter, designer, model, actress, celebrity endorser, magazine cover queen, tabloid leading lady, social media pioneer, famous wife (twice), famous mom (and sister and daughter)—and now, a superstar in the tech world.
Coming off her dual high-octane covers of Vogue and Paper in 2014 and a buzzy T-Mobile ad in this year's Super Bowl, she is now looking to build on the success of her huge mobile game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, which raked in more than $74 million last year and which Adweek selected as the year's Hottest Mobile Game in our annual Hot List. (The New York Post reported last week that the game is on track to bring in another $200 million this year, with Kim getting an $85 million cut.)
Earlier this month, the most famous woman in the universe spoke to (and posed for!) us, and here she reveals how her hit game came about (and how she plans to make it even bigger), her further aspirations in the tech space, why she's so unapologetically obsessed with Twitter and Instagram, and what is ahead for the 10th season of a TV show that gave the world a megabrand called Kardashian.
Adweek: Where did the idea for Kim Kardashian: Hollywood come from?
I had just had the baby [North West], and so I was being really choosy about what I was working on. I got a call from the company Glu Mobile to partner up and do a video game. I asked my husband [Kanye West], "What do you think of this? What would the concept be?" And he was like, "Oh my God, you have to do a video game? It's so cool."
So, we went back and we came up with this really cute concept that I thought was relatable and very much like me. It had to be something that fit my personality.
The game is a monster hit, with 28 million downloads and 11 billion minutes of play since it launched last summer. What do you credit that success to?
Something that really worked in the game that was kind of an accident are the updates. [For example], your character can go on vacation to Mexico, and that's one of the places that I go all the time.
I actually didn't know the date of the launch, but I happened to be going to Mexico on the same day. Once I started posting pictures through Instagram that I was in Mexico, everyone was playing along [and saying], "I just updated my game, and I'm in Mexico with you." They would literally get a bikini like the one I had Instagrammed in a photo.
People thought we were doing that on purpose and that it was planned, and it wasn't. We realized that it worked so well because we are in such good communication—myself and the Glu team—to make updates in real time. I try to tell them as far in advance of when I know I have a trip planned, and we try to get as many lifelike things that I'm actually doing to really happen in the game so you can play along with my real life.
Does the game always correlate to your real-life schedule?
We try to mirror it as much as possible. The look of the game was really important to me. I must have pulled thousands of references of all the different ways that characters should have their hair, the outfits and the shoes. One time there was a strap wrong on one of the character's shoes—her feet weren't matching. I had to change the programming to fix that. It was important to me that everything is right.
How involved are you with the game on a day-to-day basis?
[The developers and I] talk daily—no set time, but we have these open emails and chats. If I have an idea, I send it to them. I [also] go down to [their home base] San Francisco every other month and meet with the whole team. The process and the approval process would just take too long [otherwise]. It's important that we connect and have a good relationship. And I think they value that because we do get everything done and expedite everything because we just have that open relationship.
Why do you think the game has taken off to the extent that it has?
I don't know if I expected it to do this well. I'm really thankful that it has because I've put a lot of hard work into it and spent a lot of time on it. It's how I think of my show—someone can always relate. People always want to get their mind off of things and have something fun to do because their lives are so hectic. It's a fun game that you can really get addicted to and just lose yourself in for a couple of hours.
Gaming apps are well-known for their quick life cycles. How do you plan to keep the momentum behind your own game going?
I think that adding my family members [as characters] and a bunch of cameos will get people excited. I started with adding my mom and now my sisters [last year]. Even my pets that I've had either now or in the past are in it. I want to make it as lifelike as possible.
Within the tech space, where do you see yourself fitting in?
I hope to have a bigger presence in the tech world. I love coming up with different app ideas, and I have a few more that are coming out. Once you get started and you have this creative bug of ideas that you want to get out, I feel like I've partnered with the right team, and now I have the creative outlet to make that happen. I'm happy that people are into it and perceiving it well. I just want to create more apps.
You were also in a hilarious Super Bowl ad this year for T-Mobile. How did that come about?
When they were trying to figure out who they could partner up with for a Super Bowl commercial, [they wanted] someone who had a big social media presence and someone who has always had a T-Mobile phone. I thought it was really a genuine, perfect fit because I'm always on my phone, and I thought the commercial was so fun. The director, Paul Hunter, wanted to make it just silly, sarcastic and poke fun at the fact that everyone has all this data on their phone and takes so many selfies. They would be devastated if they were lost—or at least I would [laughs].
Does your social persona play a role in how you work with brands?
You have to have a sense of humor every once in a while. So many people think that taking so many selfies is just ridiculous. For me, what's so funny is I love taking pictures and posting them on social media for memories. I genuinely love the glam of life and hair and makeup and all of that, so I love just sharing my life with people—that's who I've been. I live my life on a reality show. But sometimes people take it very seriously, or they think it's ridiculous. I'm kind of letting them know, yes, it is ridiculous, but it's all fun. I can look at a photo on social media and see a picture and know exactly where I was by the outfit I had on or who I was with. I take it more as a fun, emotional scrapbook that I love to look back on.
What do you look for in partnerships?
I've really cut back in the last two to three years. Before then, if I thought a product was fun, I would attach myself to it. Now, I really want to make sure the messaging is right and that I stand by the product 100 percent. I want to make sure it's an authentic fit and that I'm not just doing it for the check or because I think it's a good look.
I want to make sure that I'm not spread too thin and that I have the time for my family and my friends and to be able to live a good quality of life. That's kind of what life is about—you pick and choose the things that you're really passionate about. It's a lot about the people that you want to surround yourself with. With that T-Mobile commercial, I loved the director, Paul. It didn't seem like I was tediously shooting a commercial. Of course, the agents come in and say, "OK, you have eight hours [to film]. That includes hair and makeup." Everyone knew that wasn't going to be enough time. [I said] we need to be here 16 [hours]. We wouldn't have been able to do it with other restrictions. It's about just wanting to be there and picking the right partners.
You've got 29 million Twitter followers and 26.5 million Instagram followers. How do you brand yourself as a celebrity with social media?
I don't think of this as a planned-out thing. It just kind of happened. Social media plays a huge role in my life and my career. I came at the right time when people just started to get into reality shows. Social media works when you're open, when you're honest and people want to feel like they're getting a little glimpse into your life. It's not that I brand myself like I'm a celebrity. It's just I'm living my life and sharing a part of my life with the world.
Do you think you'll always be that open on social media?
You never know. I love sharing my world with people, so I don't see me just having a freak-out and just stopping. Will I do it forever? I'm not sure. But I love the whole idea of it, especially because you get to share things your way. You get to tell your own story through your eyes.
You also have a new book coming out this spring that is a curation of your photos, right?
[I took] my first selfie in 1984, and that opens up the book. For a decade, I've carried a big digital camera, and I think it's just fascinating to see the process of what types of photos evolve. Mine started off on digital cameras, then they went to a BlackBerry and then a smartphone. There's just such an evolution of the selfie. And I captured that, I think, really well.
You're filming the 10th season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians right now. What do you hope people have gotten out of the show?
I hope they get out of it that we are a normal family. They may not think we're normal, [but] we are a family like everyone else's that goes through so many different things and we're always there to support each other. We've been a really close family regardless, but the show has brought us closer together just by spending so much time together.
I feel like people get that message. There's always a family member that someone can relate to. Someone came up to me yesterday and was like, "I have two sisters and we always do what you guys [do.]"
How long do you think the show can keep going?
We still have a few more years left in us. We always say when it gets to be really crazy and not fun anymore, we don't want to do it. And we haven't gotten there yet. (Page Six reported last week that the Kardashians re-upped with E! for a whopping $100 million, guaranteeing another four seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians and its assorted spinoffs. NBCUniversal later told TMZ that story was "grossly inaccurate.")
Is there any pressure to keep surprising people with the next big thing?
No matter when we think we're so boring, no one wants to see this anymore, something really crazy happens and there are a couple more seasons of the show. It just naturally happens. I don't know why or how. We never would have imagined that this would have gone on so long, but we're all blessed that it has.
Photos: Juco for Adweek