Let me begin with an apology: This is a post about Kim Kardashian.
Last week, my Twitter feed filled with mentions of the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood mobile game. Being bored and curious, I downloaded the app and spent my lunch creating my avatar and playing the game.
I was ashamed of myself ... and then I became a little addicted.
The crux of the game is simple. I, the player, am new to L.A., and on my first day working at a boutique shop am tasked with locking up. As I'm doing so, Kim Kardashian approaches me with a FASHION EMERGENCY. She has a photo shoot and needs clothes. Is my store open?
It’s not, but I lie.
I point her to a red dress — which the game forces me to give to her free of charge because famous people don’t pay for things — and, BOOM, we’re instant friends. She sets me up with a manager, publicist, blind date, and, eventually, a job at her retail store in Miami, Dash (which Google tells me is a real thing).
Screen shot courtesy of iTunes
On a grander scale, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is about how I, a regular person, can become famous by charming my way through social connections and working my way to the A-list.
Game maker Glu Mobile Inc. released the game on June 24, and since then it has consistently ranked among the top grossing U.S. games in July, according to Doug Creutz, an analyst at Cowen. The game is closing out July as the fifth most popular free game in Apple’s App Store. Glu Mobile hasn't released the number of downloads, but the game has more than 175,000 ratings on the App Store, more than 197,000 ratings on Google Play, and an average rating of nearly 4.5 stars on both.
So why is this game so popular?
There’s nothing inherently special about it. It is more self-aware and smarter than I anticipated, but it doesn’t change the way I feel about mobile gaming — and for full disclosure, this is the only game I have on my phone. Its design and production values are basic. The player succeeds by following simple directions. Click this, win fake money, earn energy, etc.
But the game works for two specific reasons. First, it’s a powerful reminder of the gravity of positive reinforcement. You might be fake modeling for a fake magazine spread, but repeatedly clicking on tasks such as “turn around” and “smile at the crowd” earns you fake money with which you can buy fake things. And lots of players are doing just that.
Small acts of workplace recognition can do the same thing. According to a 2013 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, 2 million Americans quit their job every month. An Accenture study discovered that 43% of unhappy employees are unhappy because of a lack of recognition. Positive reinforcement for a job done well is an important factor in retaining top talent.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is also a reminder about brand power. Despite her infamy, Kim Kardashian is a big deal. Forbes estimates her net worth at $28 million. She could make $85 million from this game alone. She has 22.5 million Twitter followers and 16 million Instagram followers. People not only know who she is and what she does but also want the things she makes or recommends. Her brand has a meaning — she’s hip, relevant, and fashionable — and it’s worth potentially $85 million.
A credit union's brand has meaning, too, to its community and membership base. Its brand says something about the institution and differentiates it from others in the market. People form opinions and make decisions based on brand: think Coke versus Pepsi, Yankees versus Red Sox, McDonalds versus Burger King, or your credit union versus fill in the blank.
There is no shortage of research on the behavioral impacts of brand on the decision-making process. In this 2010 study, 39% of respondents cited brand name as the most important attribute in buying a car. What's more, 65% said they would not consider a lesser known brand, 69% agreed that branded products are of better quality, and 43% agreed that brand signifies status. Whether its mobile games, car buying, or financial services, brand is influential.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a swanky party to attend. Kim Kardashian invited me.