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December 14, 2010 / tommoradpour

5 Things I Learned From Kim Kardashian’s Death

Relax. Kim Kardashian is not dead. Or at least, she’s been brought back to life.

What am I talking about? In the first week of December, Kardashian joined some 20 other celebs in a fundraiser organized by Alicia Keys’s great foundation – Keep A Child Alive – to help children orphaned by AIDS in Africa and India.

The campaign, orchestrated by TBWA\Chiat\Day, was called “Digital Death“. On Dec 1st, it dramatically announced the death of the 20 stars, and then invited their fans to “buy them back to life” through online and texted donations.

Of course, no one really died – the stars were only dead on their social media, meaning they pledged to keep silent on Twitter and Facebook until a certain donation goal had been reached. One million dollars to be specific.

This is my second post in a month taking learnings from “cause” marketing in social media – I don’t plan on making this an ongoing topic, but I think there’s a lot to be learned from this space (plus, I believe “social” will make “good” more and more effective, which is… a good thing!). The first thing to say is that this campaign drove a lot of conversation, and achieved its objective. So, Kudos. Big Kudos.

Still, as I compare it with the results of the cause in my previous post, I’m left with the nagging feeling this could have been much bigger. Digital Death raised $1mm in one week with their all-star cast, while Movember exceeded $60mm worldwide through the united efforts of anonymous supporters. Good, but probably could have been better.

So, I think there are learnings to be taken from both what went well and what didn’t. I’ll welcome more facts to balance this point of view, but in the meantime, here’s 5 key things I think we can already learn from Digital Death:

1. STAR POWER CAN START A FIRE (…) – Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Ryan Seacrest, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Khloe Kardashian, Lenny Kravitz, Jay Sean,  Serena Williams, Elijah Wood… The impressive list goes on. It’s enough to make every brand marketer who’s ever experienced the cut-through boost stars can bring to a campaign, drool with envy. The “SO AND SO IS DEAD” headline was provocative and bold and the combined audience of the 20 celebs on Facebook and Twitter was a whooping 94 million to start with. Killer awareness combination. And so it shows in numbers: on the first day, close to $150,000 were raised, and countless tweets, retweets, likes, comments and blogpost drove awareness of the campaign launch.

2. (…) BUT YOU NEED TO FAN IT – This is where the execution starts to fall short. Day 2, 3, 4… donations drag, and it looks like the stars might be dead longer than planned. No worries, they’ll rally the troops, right? wrong – they’ve gone radio silent with less than a single daily reminder per head. Think about it: this campaign had access to some of the most popular personalities on the planet, and yet chose to… silence them. And don’t assume fan retweets and likes would be enough to keep the momentum going – stars do have million of followers on Twitter, but most of them have virtually no following of their own. For example, I took a random sample of 350 twitter followers of Kim Kardashian via and found an average of only 27 followers per fan, and less than one tweet a day. Getting the stars to actually promote the campaign seems to me like a no brainer. Did they really all have to “die”? Why not keep some big guns alive to promote more actively? Why not make it a social competition between the stars, first to reach their share of the target with help of their fans?

3. SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT A POPULARITY CONTEST – This may be the biggest insight gap of the campaign. Of course, no-one took it literally, thinking the stars were really dead. And nobody missed the update so much they felt compelled to give. But still, the assumption was that the high popularity of the stars would translate into influence, “driving their fans to action”. Check out this Dan Zarrella research suggesting Kim Kardashian is one of the most influential celebs, as measured by an amazing 1.1% click through rate on her links. But make no mistake: clicking to see pictures of Kim meeting Katy Perry backstage is not the same as clicking to make a donation. This is the limit of defining influence or “loyalty” through blind metrics such as the size of your social media audience; a “follow” or “like” is not a measure of universal respect or commitment. Take Facebook, even the almighty Lady Gaga commanded only 0,32% post-likes from her 24 million fans; “likes”, not “donations”. Not to mention that asking followers of these stars for a $10 minimum donation was… well, let’s just say it was very ambitious!

4. SUCCESS IS WHAT YOU SAY IT IS – Back to the $1 million target, and to a positive. You know what? They set a goal and reached it. I’m not quite sure how, but they exceeded it even, as $1,106,000 have been donated so far. Alicia Keys set her sight on a target, and achieved it in a week. This matters because it puts her in a great position to reach a higher target next year, building from the positive reputation of a “win”.

5. DON’T GO WITHOUT AN EXIT STRATEGY – Finally, no matter what, making sure you have a plan B is crucial. 6 days after the start of the campaign, donations reached a half million total, and a generous donator called Stewart Rahr matched the amount single handedly, pushing Digital death over the finish lines. How long would it have lasted without him, was it planned from the start… we’ll never know. I’ll chose to believe this was well planned to allow for a graceful outcome. Just in case – hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Of course, I can’t conclude without thinking of how much would have been raised if fans had the option to keep some of those celebs silent instead of bringing them back to social media life. Sorry, cheap shot I know – I couldn’t help it 😉

What did you think of this campaign? Anything else you would have done differently?



Leave a Comment
  1. tom martin / Dec 14 2010 01:13

    Excellent write up…. love your point re: silent stars and how few followers each fan really has. Got to think that no one at TBWA/Chiat did the same analysis prior to rec’ding or launching the campaign. Seems like a major oversight (yes, I realize I’m Monday night quarterbacking).

    I also tend to think meme’s like Movember (in it’s second year I believe) do better because they draw on real vs social relationships. Thus, when I see that Movember tweet, it’s not just some person I follow, it’s the guy I had beers with last week or at the last conference we both attended. It’s a real relationship so I’m more inclined to support at some level.


    • tommoradpour / Dec 14 2010 11:21

      Tom, thanks for the kind words here and on Twitter. I really appreciate.
      You make a great build with your point on social connections. I agree with you that people will give through people they know. there is a “girl scout cookies effect”… a good cause promoted by someone you know (your neighbors), a token they’ve put their heart in (baked cookies), a knock on your door. I just gave yesterday through a friend of mine who is going to race up the Empire State Building, crazy dude. It’s the connection.
      Funny enough, they had that in the campaign – you could sacrifice yourself… but some how only 4000 people did it, and I don’t believe raised a significant portion of the money. Once again, why would you say “I’ve got a great weapon with social media and my idea is to not use it” ?

  2. Merrybubbles / Dec 14 2010 01:37

    Wow. I wasn’t aware of Digital Death (though I swear I don’t exactly live under a rock). There’s something to say and learn for social good causes about the provocative (play with death) + ensuing surprise effect in this campaign that social good ones don’t usually have as they’re mostly straight forward.

    As a social good believer, I heart the post!

    • tommoradpour / Dec 14 2010 11:17

      Quite a compelling headline, right?
      Thanks Liva!

  3. Paula Lee Bright / Dec 14 2010 01:55

    You are so right about learning from cause events and how they’re handled. Your post caused to me follow Alicia Keyes, not because of her persona, though I do love her music, but because if her “people” are smart enough to succeed at this admittedly flawed plan, then I feel sure her own social media program is a great one to learn from.

    Thanks for the ordered thinking on this. Really helpful.

    • tommoradpour / Dec 14 2010 11:16

      Paula, thanks.
      We should create a common list of celebs to “look at” in this space.
      Alicia Keys should be on it… Alyssa Milano too… and you know what? For what it’s worth, Kim Kardashian manages to get people engaged in what she normally has to say. Yes, gossip more than charity – superficial but peopl like it and it’s worth checking as a “learning” opportunity 🙂

  4. Tinu / Dec 14 2010 09:09

    Really great post. It seems like it would have been a better idea to involve the fans in an active way- maybe a tweetathon instead, modeled after @drmani’s yearly blogathon for Children’s Hearts in India. If the fan whose retweets went the farthest could spend a day with the star they retweeted, and they got major brands involved to match or even generate the donations, maybe they could have raised more. Who’s to say, really.

    I do believe your argument in oint #2 is Dead On: silencing celebrities was the wrong direction to go in. BUT I see where they were coming from – the so-and-so is dead rumor generates a lot of buzz.

  5. Erica / Dec 14 2010 09:11

    I think you’ve raised some excellent points here. The fact that Stewart Rahr (a somewhat unknown billionaire) was the “exit strategy” was rather alarming. Why not enlist other celebrities to spread the word? If Diddy can encourage people to rock the vote, surely some celebrity gal-pals of the digitally dead can get the word out.

    Still, as you’ve pointed out, the campaign was brilliant, but the fact that the voices of the campaign were silenced was its biggest downfall. The loudest messages I heard from this campaign were that “Usher’s tweeting again, even though the campaign’s not done yet” and “Some virtual no-name bailed them out so they can still say it was a success.” Not the best PR you’d hope for with a campaign like this.

    @Paula, I agree – if Alicia Keys has enough smart people around her to come up with a campaign like this, they’ve probably got some other great ideas up their sleeves. Execution failed, but the concept was awesome 🙂

    • tommoradpour / Dec 14 2010 11:14

      Can you imagine how big it could have been done differently?
      Thanks for reading and posting a comment Erica!

  6. Jim Mitchem / Dec 14 2010 09:33

    Great post, Thomas. At first glance, I was going to post something about influence and how celebrities don’t really have as much intimate influence as regular people who put out appeals for help. But you’ve proved that. Sure, they might say ‘Buy Tide laundry detergent to save the oceans’ and Tide might get a spike from a Tweet like that, but it’s insincere. True influence requires sincerity. And from what I can gather, most celebrities don’t bother with engaging their ‘followers’ directly enough to elicit anything like sincerity in them. Of course there will be die-hards who do whatever the celebrity asks, but you’ve got to throw that small fraction out of the overall algorithm. They’re freaks. So it comes down to sincerity. And very few celebrities can invest the time and emotional capital necessary to make sincere connections with their audience. Perhaps Alicia Keys can, and from what I see in my Twitter stream, Alyssa Milano has some serious influence in this space, but to silence the celebrities altogether is a recipe for a backfire. It’s not like Kim Kardashian is sharing the secrets of happiness here. When you silence someone with the talent of a cartoon character, people will forget them.

    Again, an interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing.

    • tommoradpour / Dec 14 2010 11:13

      “When you silence someone with the talent of a cartoon character, people will forget them”… Love that, Jim!
      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you.

  7. Christopher Johnston / Dec 14 2010 09:46

    To be honest I would have preferred that if they reached the goal we could keep them silent. Most of these celebs provide little to no value from their tweets. I would pay to keep someone like Robert Scoble or Jermiah Owyang tweeting but if Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga, or Justin Bieber stopped tweeting tomorrow I say good riddens to bad rubbish.

  8. Nicolas Saintagne / Dec 14 2010 13:08

    Dear Tom,

    Thank you for this interesting and very analytical perspective on this campaign.

    What is most interesting for me here is that with good drivers (e.g. superstars. I’m afraid everybody just can’t afford it) and a bold baseline you can leverage thousands of small donations/actions.

    Let’s translate it to a “non-cause” campaign : imagine I am a mainstream brand which wants to collect thousands of pictures and comments (insights on how food is stored in a fridge, on what your closet looks like, etc.) I could arrange such a contest with top drivers (show this star who you really are, show a CEO how the products are really used, etc. + small incentive or reward: become our key intelligent consumer of the year) for small actions (a single picture + comment).

    You can imagine having a large scale dedicated consumers MR panel working for you at a very low cost.

    What is your opinion about it ?

  9. Alexander Nikolov / Dec 15 2010 08:12

    “Of course, I can’t conclude without thinking of how much would have been raised if fans had the option to keep some of those celebs silent instead of bringing them back to social media life. Sorry, cheap shot I know – I couldn’t help it” — my thoughts exactly! Cheers Tom

  10. c1mg / Dec 16 2010 08:30


    In the midst of this campaign, I found myself surrounded by naysayers in the digital space and rightfully so. I am a big supporter of charitable causes and innovative fundraising to raise money for these said causes, but I am not of fan of those who use death to “market” Africa. In my honest opinion, the imagery of death (even a digital one) was insensitive and most of my colleagues in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent would agree.

    @ Christopher, most of these celebrities do not tweet back to their follower let alone engage in a conversation with them. The lack of accessibility is where these celebrities fail. I could do without the pompous tweets about the quarter of a diet bagel that Kim Kardashian ate for breakfast.;)

    • tommoradpour / Dec 16 2010 08:37

      Ha-ha-ha! “Save the world, one quarter of a bagel at a time”, with Kim Kardashian!
      Sounds like a great movie you and I won’t go see.
      Thanks for coming and commenting, Natalie

  11. sumner musolf / Dec 16 2010 09:36

    Like you, Tom, I thought the premise behind the campaign was solid. I was surprised to see that no one Tweeted on “their behalf” from their account. Even if it was the celebrity themselves pretending to be someone else (sister / parent / friend / etc.), there could have been a “guest star” still reaching out to the throngs of followers… i.e., still reverberating the message.

    What I can’t speak to is how long they “ramped up” to “die.” How many Tweets did they send… how many days did they send how many Tweets… how many times did they include the other celebrities’ handles who were participating to reinforce the message and the cause… how many times did they elaborate on the benefit of the cause… etc. I could excuse (to a lesser degree) the “Tweeting silence” if they took a consolidated time frame to really hammer home their message.

    The only other thing I’d say is involving other media outlets… or at least other Twitter accounts. Have 20 celebrities “die”… but have 20 more that have massive lists of followers (a lot of overlap, which is good… and other new ones, which is also good) to spread their message.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Howie at Sky Pulse Media / Dec 22 2010 13:36

    Your 5 points are dead on. I think to have the biggest impact the effort has to be immediate with urgency. A limited time line. And a robust marketing effort on and off line. There is so much competition for funds. Someone blogged that soon all giving will be by social. Not true or I wouldn’t still get mailers and phone calls asking for money. There is a lot of competition and sadly with Social if you make it ‘Hey we are here please donate but btw you can donate tomorrow or next week’ the urgency is gone.

    Two guys in Southern California wanted to do a Thanksgiving Food Drive for the Second Harvest Food Bank to raise 1000 pounds of food with 20 gourmet food trucks participating over two weeks as food drop off points. One of my clients is an up and coming dessert company that launched a truck in August. I helped organize the marketing effort for social media with a blitz the week before the kick off. One of the two organizers is in PR with 75 stars in his stable and great connections. We had 20 TV and Movie celebs and a great silent auction (thank you Pepsi for donating Superbowl Tickets) at the Verizon Amphitheater in Orange County for the big event with all the trucks. We organized Facebook, Twitter, the local bloggers and news coverage. Well see for yourself how well we did all via Social Media.


  1. 2010 in review | Brand Directions

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