The "Brilliant" Strategy Behind Kim Kardashian's Kimoji: Getting Fans to Pay and Market You All at Once

Kimoji_Comp - Publicity -  H 2016
Courtesy of Kapps Media, LLC.; Courtesy of Whalerock

Kimoji_Comp - Publicity -  H 2016

Her team won't reveal what she's making on the $1.99 app, but with more than 76 million followers on Instagram and 46 million on Twitter, it's safe to say she's raking in mucho as stars like Justin Bieber and Stephen Curry follow suit.

Kim Kardashian's most popular emoji features her hysterically crying, but she's laughing all the way to the bank. The reality star launched Kimoji in December with the help of Whalerock Industries, former ABC chief Lloyd Braun's digital media company. Its immediate popularity with her fans sparked rumors that she crashed Apple's iTunes store. Whalerock executive editor Jen Garcia Allen won't divulge how many people have downloaded the $1.99 app, or how much revenue it has generated, but she says it's still among the top 50 paid apps on iTunes. Kardashian has more than 76 million followers on Instagram and 46 million on Twitter. At two bucks a pop, it's pretty safe to assume Kimoji purchases are raking in millions.

Whalerock, Apple and possibly Kardashian's agents or momager, Kris Jenner, each take a cut, but Manatt Digital chairman T. Hale Boggs says these deals give a bigger chunk of revenue to talent than traditional licensing or endorsement deals. "It's kind of brilliant, actually," says Boggs. "Emojis are beyond borders and language. It's a great way to enable your fan base to promote and market you without really spending anything."

Kimoji's success has triggered a wave of celebs following in her cartoon footsteps — more than a dozen have so far with developers such as AppMoji and Kapps Media. Smartphone users can turn to Justin Bieber strutting, Charlie Sheen winning and NBA MVP Stephen Curry biting his nails when words alone just don't cut it. The craze is attracting music, TV and reality stars and even Olympian Gabby Douglas. "The market is going to continue to be crowded," says Allen. "Of the top 10-performing Kimoji, seven or eight are actually gifs. If people are using gifs to communicate, we're going to continue to add gifs." The most used? A gif of Kardashian twerking.

Major brands are cashing in on the emoji craze, too. Disney announced July 7 that it's releasing an emoji-based game that unlocks the icons of favorite characters as users play. Meanwhile, Domino's has been encouraging customers to preselect their favorite items, then simply tweet a pizza emoji when they want to place an order.

As for Kardashian, after dominating the emoji market, she has set her sights on merchandising. Soon Kardashian fans won't just invoke images of the star's infamous rear end, "Stink Eye North" or "Crying Kim" in private messages, they'll be able to wear those images, proudly or ironically, thanks to her upcoming line of streetwear.

This story first appeared in the July 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.