Controversial Cover Girl

Posted by Leah Price

April 2, 2014

Who’s been on the cover of the last five issues of Vogue? Most people couldn’t tell you, with the exception of one: The April 2014 issue. This issue features reality show maven Kim Kardashian and in-demand rapper Kanye West, sparking widespread controversy among fans of the magazine as well as pop culture followers. Audiences from both camps were not happy about the cover and voiced that opinion on multiple platforms.


The question seems to be why Vogue would put Kardashian on the cover yet from an integrated marketing perspective why wouldn’t Vogue put Kardashian on the cover? Once the word leaked of the cover it spread like wildfire online. There was media frenzy surrounding the cover which included the marketing copy about the issue and a video vignette that had images from the photo shoot. The photo shoot not only includes Kardashian and West but also their 8 month old baby, North. Kardashian’s presence on the cover is so strong it has beat out the fact that she and West are the first interracial couple on the cover and that West is the first rapper. All pointing to the reason why Anna Wintour most likely decided to put them on the cover; people will talk.

Integrated marketing for this cover included public relations and online coverage. Public relations efforts began with the announcement of the issue, appearances by Kim Kardashian and the Kardashian clan on various talk shows and the media coverage of the controversy that surrounded the cover.

Kim Kardashian on Late Night with Seth Meyers

Eldest sister Kourtney Kardashian even appeared on Good Morning America claiming to not know of the controversy (Chan, 2014) which fed more comments by fans and non-fans. Various spoofs were created to mock the cover that went digital including Miss Piggy and Kermit and Seth Rogen and James Franco. Celebrities like Sara Michelle Gellar chimed in to voice outrage about Vogue’s choice of cover claiming they would cancel their subscriptions.

Piggy_Kardashian  Rogen_Kardashian

Controversial covers are not a new scheme. Last year Rolling Stone featured a glamourized version of alleged Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover which was banned from certain retailers and brought out a huge outcry from the people of Boston (Mirkinson, 2013). However, sales of the issue doubled from the previous year. There have been plenty of other controversial magazine covers in the recent past such as The New Yorker and the Obama’s fist bump, Michelle Bachman’s Newsweek cover with the title “The Queen of Rage,” and the Bloomberg Businessweek cover about the merger of Continental and United Airlines in a compromising position (Hoffman, 2012). Controversial marketing can not only raise awareness but can also raise sales numbers (Sodiere, 2012). In an industry where sales are on the decline, magazines have to find new ways to bring in consumers and sell their own brand (Hoffman, 2012).


Love it or hate it, people have been talking about the Kim and Kanye cover for weeks (and Vogue) and the chatter is ongoing. The more awareness for this cover the more curiosity on the article and the magazine, even for consumers who don’t like the subject. There is also anticipation of who will be on the May issue of Vogue. For a publication that has seen a decline in sales (4.4% in 2013), Vogue is looking to cultivate younger subscribers (Media Blog, 2013) through the public figures that speak to them. This Kardashian cover could be part of a larger marketing campaign to keep that audience engaged and coming back for more.


Chan (2014). Kourtney Kardashian ‘last to hear’ about reactions to Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s Vogue cover. Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from

Hoffman, M. (2012). The 10 most controversial mag covers published. Adweek. Retrieved from

Media Blog. (2013, August 30). Vogue, Tatler and other high-end women’s magazines target teen market. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Mirkinson, J. (2013). Rolling Stone’s Boston bomber issue sells big on newsstands. Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Sodiere, F. (2012). 10 examples to increase sales with controversial content. Social Media Today. Retrieved from

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12 Responses to Controversial Cover Girl

  1. Kara Seward says:


    Great timely post. Your points on spot on for why Ana Wintour chose Kim and Kanye. I would argue that the Vogue covers have been shifting since print magazines began to decline. In the 1990’s the Vogue cover was coveted for supermodels, it was rare to see a celebrity. However, this shift occurred with decreasing sales. The 2000’s have only seen celebrities on the cover – it is now rare to see a model, let alone a supermodel (if we have any anymore).

    This year we have a distinct shift in the type of celebrity. Lena Dunham, creator of GIRLS, was on the January cover. An unusual choice, because she doesn’t match with the brand. She’s a celebrity, sure, but not renowned for her fashion sense. She’s simply outspoken and “hot” right now. March we saw Rhianna who is at least well-known for her fashion sense, but not the traditional couture brands advertised in the magazine. Now, we have Kim and Kanye. A new brand of celebrity – reality and rapper. Who’s next? The Real Housewives of New York?

    While these celebrities are popular and create pop culture discussion, is all publicity good publicity? It may bring a sales spike, but at the loss of brand loyal customers. The main concern is the Vogue is veering off its brand as the high-end, couture magazine. Might this result in a loss of similar advertisers? This is something to watch as the magazine industry tries to remain relevant in an increasingly digital world.


  2. Erin says:

    Leah great post! Although I am pretty over the Kardashian Klan and their entourages from an Integrated Marketing stand point it was a great move. The “firsts” that this cover accomplished were notable, first rapper, first interracial couple. But that was over shadowed by the Kardashian effect (they are become less and less liked/tolerated it seems).

    However, it appears that the cover got people talking about Vogue, even those not in the fashion world, and I assume like you said that was the point. But did it increase their sales?


  3. Amy Bozic says:

    Great coverage of a timely topic. I will admit to dropping in on the Kardashian’s a few times but found their lives uninteresting. So when Vogue put them on the cover I had the same reaction…it was uninteresting. I have no objections to Kanye and Kim on the cover (and I applaud the fact that Vogue has decided to join the real world by putting an inter-racial couple on the cover), but I just don’t care enough to become outraged about something so unimportant in the grand scheme of things. If only people saved their outrage for things like the discrimination you allude to the world would be a better place.

    I don’t have a subscription but do pick up a copy from time to time. This recent choice makes me wonder if Vogue is looking to shift their target market to a group that can’t afford the clothing inside the magazine.

    Thanks for a great post!

  4. Dawn Hosking says:

    Hi Leah-

    I saw the cover on the newstands and I must be in a total coccoon because my reaction was not about Kim and Kwanye being the interracial couple on Vogue. I wish that America could get over this hump in both directions because I have experienced reverse racism many times in Dallas and I know that these people think they are justified in their belief but it’s a painful experience to be discriminated against. Getting even or a one up does not help the problem. Also, another note if it were not for bi-racial relationships 99.9% of us would not be healthy or exist at all.
    My reaction was about her fashion and the dress being beautiful but why style her as a bride before she debuts herself as a bride to her groom. The dress is very traditional and basic, totally different from Kim’s image and then I thought, oh very smart- to pose them in this manner to show the world that they are just like everyone else in love. The second thought is Kwanye’s expression of love and pride to be on the cover with Kim. I thought the photo was telling of how he feels about her. As a fan of rap, I want to believe that these “hard” guys have a sensitive side to them because they are artists and rap is an observation of the culture around them. Great job for noticing and posting this event.

  5. Caroline Miller says:

    Hi Leah,

    The timing on the Vogue cover is classic. From mid to late March the headlines were swirling that the Kardashians were being cancelled and that their empire was crumbling. Here is a post from Star magazine dated March 31, 2014. This cover circulated the week before the April issue of Vogue was released. The pump was primed for the Vogue controversy since the debate about the Kardashians being cancelled had raged for two weeks prior to the Vogue cover. To keep the conversation going everyone hopped over to the new cover and generated even more press coverage for them. They certainly do know how to keep themselves in the pop culture conversation.

    Controversy seems to be the hot ticket for generating public interest these days. It is one of the few ways to get people’s attention in our over stimulated world. It generates discussions, it sells magazines, it gets people tweets, and so on. The public these days are the main vehicle for media promulgation of their stories, news reports and announcements. So what better way than to get people riled up about something to get them to chime into the discussion, create their own posts, post on discussion boards, etc. They took the cue that most people will not act until they are unhappy. It is the unhappy people who will post a complaint on a company’s website; the happy customer will rarely take the time to post something nice. So get people riled up and sell, sell, sell those magazines, movies, TV shows, etc.

    Caroline Miller

  6. Pete says:

    I know it is a shocker that I do not have a Vogue subscription. From my vantage point, this was no gamble, it was a sure bet. Kim alone has a show, a clothing line and other selling products. And Kanye, regardless of your genre of choice for music, this man make and sells music by the bundle. They may not be thought of in an overall positive, respective view in the same way as the royal Will/Kate of the U.K. or Tim McGraw/Faith Hill, also mega-musicians, but ‘the people’ – en masse – buy and listen. That was surely the final analysis of Anna Wintour of Vogue before one picture was snapped of Kim and Kanye.
    Most current and relevant selection to debate and discuss, congrats!

  7. Bonnie Sellers says:


    Great post! I seem to remember reading coveraging of this “controversy” that quoted an Anna Wintour from years past saying Kim Kardashian would never be on the cover of her magazine. Desperate times, I suppose.

    As someone who indulges in the odd reality TV guilty pleasure, I have yet to find a reason why the Kardashians are still on the air. They are extremely boring, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s just the middle class living vicariously through the wealthy lives of reality show entrepreneurs. What I find interesting is the complete 180 that Vogue’s editors have taken. Maybe everyone though the Kardashians were a passing phase. How many seasons has that show had? And how many spinoffs? Now bolstered by the celebrity superpower of Kanye West, I think Kim has found a way to become a permanent fixture in pop culture, one that Vogue editors could no longer ignore. Vogue readers are changing, and I think it’s smart to stay relevant to your audience. But at what cost? It seems like the magazine may be pandering, especially since it is known to have such strict standards. (Have you ever seen the Vogue documentary, “The September Issue”? It’s enlightening.) Will this move lock in new, younger subscribers, or will it ultimately hurt the Vogue brand? I’ll guess we’ll have to wait and see when the sales numbers come rolling in.

  8. Maru says:

    Hi Leah,

    What a timely topic! At this point, I feel anything that Kanye West or Kim Kardashian do will be made a parody. I will admit I glanced at the inside pages of Vogue while I was at Target the other day (mostly to see the fashions and baby North). The cover was no doubt controversial, especially because many people do not deem “reality stars” as Vogue- worthy.

    From a PR practitioner’s standpoint, there is a certain value this brings to whoever initiates. At the end of the day, there is no such thing as bad press and countless controversial covers have brought about millions of media impressions, air-time, and attention, keeping not only the magazine, but the celebrities involved topics of conversation. Remember the Bound 2 music video with Kim and Kanye? What about the parody of Bound 2 with James Franco and Seth Rogan? Perfect example of integrated marketing communications!

  9. Christa says:

    Well, they’ve got to do something to get people to buy magazines, right?
    The Kimye storyline is just getting old but in reality, it’s the first time I’ve heard about Vogue in a long time, so they’re doing something right.
    Great post, Leah.

  10. Jared Maxwell says:

    Hey Leah,

    Great post! I thought it was an interesting move from Vogue as well, but the buzz that has been generating from the cover has sparked a lot of interest for Vogue, and possibly from an audience that might not be in the target demographic for Vogue, but now could be. Personally, I don’t care for anything that is Kardashian related, but I do need to hand it to them for how well they can get themselves out there for PR purposes related to a variety of things. The media, in–light of this issue, would love nothing more than to secure interviews with all members of this frenzy, and Vogue along with the Kardashian’s did well with how to execute proper media relations.
    Even magazines have to do something bold with their covers to get some buzz around what they are doing. Sometimes, the plan is brilliant because they’re getting press that otherwise would not have happened. Great work on shedding some light on this topic.

    Take care,

  11. Michelle Dennison says:

    Great examples, Leah! I love the airline example with the controversial line of “Let’s Get It On.” People would walk by that and at the minimum take a sneak peak as to what it pertains to with that as it’s title! Who could resist? Love it or hate it, controversial marketing works!

  12. Jeffrey says:

    Hi Leah,
    You make a great point about how effective the creation of controversy can be at drawing mass amounts of attention. Like the old saying goes, “any publicity is good publicity”. As tongue-in-cheek as that advice is, it’s amazing how often it actually ends up working out for those at the center of a public argument. For example, when everyone was getting on Miley Cyrus’ case (and perhaps they still are), she was quote as saying something along the lines of “I did it purposely, because I knew it would get everyone talking, and it worked”. These methods of drawing the limelight and weathering the storm are frankly impressive, as most people would assume the negative consequences would overwhelm any benefit gained – apparently, this is many times not the case.
    Thanks for sharing!
    -Jeff M