Will Kanye West’s brand survive a dramatic message shift?

We’ve talked about branding lessons we can learn from rappers in the past. This seems like the time to talk about messaging and Kanye West’s brand. Specifically, Kanye West’s brand as an example of what can happen on a large scale when your brand goes off-message.

If you don’t follow Kanye’s Twitter, there’s a good chance your life’s a little less stressful than the 28 million who do. Let’s go over the trouble with Kanye West’s brand messaging.

Establishing Brand Expectations

West’s core audience had come to expect a message of innovation, creativity, wealth, and West using his platform to boldly right social wrongs. His musical catalog evolved from honest, eager, and relatably imperfect to larger than life.

A moment frequently referenced is the 2005 Hurricane Katrina telethon where, next to a clearly flabbergasted Mike Meyers, West stated “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” Through this and through his song lyrics, fans reasonably concluded West’s politics were in line with their own.

Conflicting Brand Messaging

But since the 2016, election, things changed. Following a mental health event, West seemed to publicly support Donald Trump, even meeting with him at Trump Tower. West then mostly disappeared from social media, and fans cautiously hoped his Trump praise would die off has his health improved.

Then in April 2018 came what seemed like verification that, in fact, West’s political alignment was far more conservative than expected. Among other tweets, “I love the way Candace Owens thinks” and one stating he and Trump share a “dragon energy” caused fans to recoil in horror. Meanwhile, his core audience began to shift from liberal to conservative.

Is This… Strategy?

For some, Kanye West’s brand as an innovative genius is protected by conspiracy theories. For others, there’s speculation that this reversal has killed West’s brand.

And for still others, there’s an argument that West knows exactly what he’s doing—and there might be an example to follow here. After all, his still quite young, Adidas-backed Yeezy brand unexpectedly experienced a boost immediately following this radical shift. He is and has always been an expert force in creating hype on social media so… maybe?

What remains unclear is whether this is all part of a larger brand strategy, and if so… what is it? And by the time we know, will it matter?

Ultimately, what’s even more frustrating to an audience that truly loves you and your brand (and has overlooked past behavior) is being completely and utterly confused by your message. They’re unsure if they approve or disapprove of your message. If you’re a megastar with a decade and a half’s worth of building a loyal following, people want to give you the benefit of the doubt. If you’re brand new? Chrissy Teigen said it best: “kanyeeeeeeeeeeeeee iljeflaejsf’pifgaiw’rgjwregfreogjwrpogjjr”.