Kim Kardashian’s KKW: The Birth of A Backlash


Kim Kardashian, pop culture’s reigning Queen of social media, has been embroiled in yet another online scandal. This time Kim took to Instagram to tease her 180 million combined social media fans about the launch of her new beauty website. Queue her legions of loyal fashion pack followers speculating on what her ‘beauty’ offering would be, and whether a makeup range will be competition to her little sister Kylie’s.The internet didn’t have to wait long to see how Kim would promote her range. Never shying away from attempts to ‘break the internet’, on the 14th June Kim released an image of herself to promote her new KKW Crème Counter and Highlight Kit. Her skin was noticeably darker than usual. The internet immediately responded with claims that Kim had darkened either her skin or the photo, in what was referred to as ‘blackface’. The response has so far totalled 8.9K direct mentions online.



Although ‘blackface’ may sound like a modern term, it actually originates from 19th century America, when white actors darkened their faces with makeup to ridicule African Americans. Such an act understandably offends a lot of people and over the years several scandals have ensued when celebrities have ‘blacked up’ to impersonate other people.

So how does this kind of backlash play out online? Let’s take a look at some of Pulsar’s data visualisations to find out more…

The Birth of a Backlash

With this kind of scandal, you may expect to see a sharp peak in online conversation (as the topic is analysed, shared and discussed), followed by a decline. However this is not the case with Kim and her KKW blackface controversy.

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After an initial peak, we see conversation increase to a second peak, higher than the first. This is when Kim, after a gap of a few days, responded to the scandal by speaking directly to The New York Times. She was quoted as saying:

‘I obviously never wanted to offend anyone…I was really tan [sic] when we shot the images, and it might be that the contrast was off.’

In this second peak, Kim has actually managed to increase the amount of exposure for the story, and therefore for her product range. Kim’s seeming innocence in the face of the accusation of blackface seems genuine. Whether a deliberate darkening of the image took place to drive awareness of her beauty range (which sold out in a few short hours despite the controversy), is now besides the point – the image is out there and increasing the impact of the range with each click, comment and share.

Initial awareness of the product range (and immediate backlash) grew more slowly than the second, more established peak. Interestingly the whole period of activity was dotted with articles, although few drove the peaks in conversation. The main story was driven by fans discussing the image online, supplemented by articles. Engagement can be seen to be noticeably higher in the second peak, when Kim responds to the allegations.

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Showing the dissipation of articles throughout the scandal and the split between mentions (dark blue) and engagement (light blue)


Below you can see that the term ‘blackface’ permeated all sections of conversation around the controversy. This shows how powerful the use of a specific phrase or hashtag can be when driving buzz. It can also help to define the parameters of an issue or scandal within an online world saturated with stories about the Kardashian clan.

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Despite the seriousness of the allegation made against Kim’s image, the reaction to the scandal was only 26% negative, with the majority of conversation neutral (70%). The image also got consumers successfully talking about the benefits and possibilities of contouring, the very product that Kim was promoting.


Despite the controversy, Kim has not removed the image from her pages. The image is in fact still the profile image for all her social media accounts, albeit as a slightly lighter version. Clearly the bad press did little to damage the prospects for her beauty range, which remains out of stock. This scandal has shown Kim to be a master of controlling a wave of online conversation, something she is sure to put to good use as future events no doubt thrust her once again into the limelight.

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