Britten teaches the Kardashians in class | Nebraska today
From TV commercials for their feature-length show on E! from the network to the magazines of grocery checkouts splattered with their faces, difficult to go anywhere without falling on the escapades of the Kardashian clan.
And now Kelli Britten of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication, assistant professor of practice, has brought the Kardashian family into the classroom at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Her special subject course, “Keeping Up with the Kardashian Brand” was a popular choice within the college for two semesters. With seats filled and students on the waiting list, Britten knows she’s stumbled upon something special with the Kardashian-based program.
Although the family helps attract students and attract attention, it is also a great way to introduce advertising and media concepts.
“I feel like for a number of years I would randomly use the Kardashians as examples in lectures when we talk about brands, products, audiences…or advertising reflecting culture and advertising influencing the culture,” Britten said.
Britten’s class does an in-depth analysis of the Kardashian trademark. The family is known for their variety of businesses – each daughter having her own brand (or two). You may have heard of SKIMS, the comfortable clothing line, or Good American, the curvy denim company. Or maybe you saw a bottle of 818 Tequila while you were walking down the liquor aisle. Then there’s Kylie Cosmetics, made famous for its lip kits containing all the pieces for the perfect pout, and Poosh, the lifestyle media outlet.
“There’s no other family that does that,” Britten said. “There can be an individual who does that, growing as an influencer and then monetizing it with multiple revenue streams, but not at that level and it wasn’t such permanence.”
With plenty of examples of media strategy, product placement and PR scandals within the Kardashian clan, Britten was able to create a whole course curriculum around the family. The core of the class is formed around three learning objectives: learning what fame means, understanding branding, and understanding influencers versus digital strategy.
“I think there was definitely a perception that it was going to be like, let’s look at that TV show and gossip… We have a textbook, I pull from probably 13 or 14 other books for conference content that they read, and then they read probably 15 to 20 peer-reviewed academic papers,” Britten said.
Britten also thinks the popular culture aspect of the Kardashians makes content more accessible to her students. She says that while a few students in her class are die-hard Kardashian fans, there are plenty of others who are simply into influencers or taking the course because it’s an interesting choice.
And Britten isn’t the only teacher to realize that celebrities can influence the curriculum. New York University recently made headlines for its Taylor Swift-inspired course that studies the singer’s cultural impact and relevance. And with influencers and celebrities continuing to expand the world of digital strategies and marketing, there is certainly more academic interest in the subject.
Overall, Britten has found bringing the Kardashians into the classroom to be a very effective teaching tool for her advertising students. By combining the popular culture they already consume with advertising concepts and literature, Huskers are able to see the strategies they read in their textbooks play out in real life. One student surmised as much in a lesson journal left at the end of the semester – stating, “I didn’t even know I was learning.”
“People don’t see reality TV as serious because it’s fake and pretends to be real, but from a consumer perspective, we like it because it’s ambitious. It mimics our lives or it’s more relevant in some way. But when we look at popular culture as a critical pedagogy to teach, it’s incredibly effective,” Britten said. “Especially when we look at our Gen Z audience – they spend all their time on their phones, they consume culture and experience society in a very, very different way.”