An Open Letter to the Kardashian-Jenner Sisters Re: Your New Mobile Apps

Dear Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie:

Hello! I recently downloaded several of the personal apps that you released via iTunes through your developer Whalerock Industries. Being neither a teenaged girl nor a middle-aged mild pervert, I recognize I am not your usual target.

I’m actually a 31-year old working professional, who orbited into your app world because I work for a product design & development firm, and was doing some fairly routine user experience research for an entertainment client. Given I’m not sure that you have any user experience experts on staff or in the family, I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself and share some fast UX feedback that, ideally, can be incorporated into your next updated release.

From a business perspective, while I would wager your projections may have been slightly higher, your products appear to be doing pretty well. According to Apptopia, the five of you collectively received roughly 3.7 million downloads in the first 30 days following your mid-September launch. (Special shout-out to Kylie who personally had 1.8MM of that total number in the first two weeks alone!)

As you well know, your apps are all free to use for 7 days, after which point a $2.99 monthly subscription fee is charged. After some initial subscriber churn that I’m sure you forecasted for, based on those numbers, the family collectively earned approximately $1.04 million dollars in subscriber revenue in just the first month. Not a bad first 30 days on the App Store.

I have to be honest with you now. After downloading all the apps and getting the learnings I needed for my project, I deleted all but Kendall and Kylie’s from my phone. Basically, I figured I’d wait around until the 7-day mark, and delete the last two then, before accidentally getting charged.

As I mentioned, the apps are free to download. And, much like a standard news app, the monthly $2.99 subscription is managed through Apple, which is arguably the most convenient approach for everyone.

All that really meant to me on download was that while I wasn’t triggered to enter my credit card information before downloading your products, I needed to personally remember that I also wouldn’t be reminded to cancel once the week was over and my free trial was automatically converted into a paid subscription.

So, like any self-respecting thirty-something with a busy schedule and no access to a personal assistant, I created a calendar reminder for Day 7 to ensure I deleted the apps before Apple started taking the $2.99 per app from my account each month.

And this is where things started to get tricky.

The following screenshot is one sample of the uniform “Manage Subscription” language that exists across all five of your products.

Now, I consider myself a pretty high-functioning mobile user. And yet, it took me almost 20 minutes to decipher this language and figure out how to unsubscribe.

For starters, there wasn’t clarity on whether you were referring to the iTunes Store on my phone or my desktop. Then, I couldn’t find a section in either place that was titled simply “Account”. And finally, the sample screenshot that accompanied the language was not one I could find on either platform.

At first, I was willing to accept the 20-minute time loss as my own personal, technological shortcoming. But then I went a little further, asking a couple of the highly proficient 23-year old web & mobile developers in my office to take my devices and attempt to follow your same instructions.

The good news is they figured it out eventually. The bad news is it took them both between 5–10 minutes.

And this, ladies, leads us to a small but critical problem:

When an unsubscribe action takes a semi-advanced to advanced mobile user up to 20 minutes to complete, and when it contains instructional language that cannot be replicated or even found within iTunes, well, it just reeks of an intentional dark pattern.

Are you familiar with dark patterns? It’s what we call user interfaces that have been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things they may not necessarily want or intend to do. Things like automatically buying insurance with their purchase, inviting their entire Google contact list to join LinkedIn, or, signing up for recurring bills when they didn’t realize they were doing it, but didn’t know how to cancel properly. Dark patterns are the worst. And more importantly, they’re dishonest.

Here’s the good news, though. This is easily fixable! You haven’t broken any laws, and the dark pattern that appears across all your apps is a simple design & copy tweak. Using the same language used by Apple Support, I’ve actually taken the liberty of rewriting the Manage Subscription language for you here.

If Whalerock Industries doesn’t have a designer available, feel free to reach out to me directly, and I’d be happy to ask a designer on my team to quickly update these screens, across brand styles, on all five of the apps. We can get clean versions to you within a day. Between development integration, and the App Store lead time to approve an update, you should be able to get this addressed and pushed live in less than a week.

Before I go, I’ll remind you of what you, as intelligent marketers, already well know — that your core target is young women ages 13–21.

Now up to this point, I’ve refrained from sharing any of my personal opinions about the content of your apps themselves. I’ve avoided mentioning that your products, and by extension your personal brands, seem to potentially further a message to impressionable young women that what they look like, and what makeup they wear is fundamentally more important than their intelligence or the content of their characters.

That’s not what this letter was supposed to be about. It’s supposed to be about business. Because we both know that when people complain about you all, their primary attack is asking what it is you actually do. And the answer you provide is that you’re businesswomen.

That’s completely fair. You’re in the business of building your brands, connecting with fans, and ideally making a bit of money in the process.

But in order for me, and hopefully others alongside me, to respect you in that pursuit, I need to believe that the dark pattern on your apps is purely an oversight, and that you are genuinely not interested in “accidentally” tricking your most devoted fans out of small sums of their hard-earned money month after month. Please prove me right on this one.

I look forward to seeing the updates on each apps, and wish you the best of luck with your ongoing endeavors in the tech space. Thanks, and have a great day.