July 23, 2015 / 4:28 PM / 2 years ago

Caitlyn as popular as Kim? Americans cautious as Jenner transgender show airs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Caitlyn Jenner is ready for her close-up with the launch of her reality show on Sunday but Americans may not be as eager to welcome the former Olympic champion as a transgender woman onto their televisions, cereal boxes and billboards.

Caitlyn Jenner, recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, is seen on a TV set in the press room during the 2015 ESPY's award show at Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, California July 15, 2015. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the furor last month over Jenner’s glamorous coming out Vanity Fair photo as Caitlyn, she still has a way to go to keep up with Kim Kardashian - her reality queen step-daughter - in terms of popular appeal, according to marketing experts.

“In New York and California, she (Jenner) has become a very accepted story. It remains to be seen what people think about all this in Ohio or Oklahoma,” said New York branding consultant Hayes Roth.

With “I Am Cait” set to make its premiere on E! television on Sunday, the market research firm E-Score, which tracks the popularity of some 8,000 celebrities, said this week that Jenner is liked by 23 percent of those it surveyed and disliked by 34 percent.

People are unsure about Jenner’s motives for the show, said Gerry Philpott, CEO of E-Poll Market Research, which produces E-Score. “They will be looking to see if she is exploiting the transition for publicity and money or is sincere in her efforts to present transgender issues.”

After becoming the fastest account in Twitter history to reach 1 million followers in June, @Caitlyn_Jenner now has 2.7 million Twitter followers.

Kim Kardashian, perhaps the world’s best-known reality TV star thanks to “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” has 32 million Twitter followers and estimated earnings last year of $52 million, according to Forbes. That comes largely from her clothing, kids clothing, sun tan, fragrances and video game products, some of which are joint ventures with her sisters.

INFLUENCE OR ALIENATE?

Jenner, 65, has yet to announce any marketing tie-ups ahead of the premiere of her show. Her representatives told Reuters there has been “a lot of interest” regarding potential deals but they declined to discuss specifics.

That doesn’t mean the advertising world has turned its back on Jenner, the most high profile American to transition publicly to a woman. But both sides appear to be biding their time.

“This is new territory,” said Jeetendr Sehdev, professor of marketing at the University of Southern California. “We don’t know whether Caitlyn Jenner is going to influence people to purchase or whether she is going to alienate people. That is where brands are being very cautious at the moment.”

In 1977, after winning an Olympic gold medal for the decathlon, Bruce Jenner graced the Wheaties box and became a spokesman for the cereal. General Mills has declined to discuss the possibility of featuring Caitlyn Jenner in the same way.

Millennials are more likely to respond positively to Caitlyn Jenner than older people, according to Megan Hartman, strategy director at Red Peak Youth branding agency in New York.

“I think brands would be very smart to align themselves with her because she is such a brave spokesperson. I think we are going to see a lot of brands across all categories - beauty fashion, sports, entertainment - looking to get a piece of her,” Hartman said.

“She probably feels a certain responsibility as one of the first transgender celebrities and will be a little more cautious in terms of deals. But she definitely has the potential and the same marketability as any of the Kardashians.”

Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Mary Milliken and Bill Trott

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