Calvin Klein, Levi’s and the Real Value of Marketing


It would be a bit much to credit the rebound at Calvin Klein entirely to a billboard of Jeremy Allen White in boxer briefs. Shares of parent company PVH, which also owns Tommy Hilfiger, had been climbing for weeks before the campaign’s Jan. 4 unveiling. Wall Street analysts are more likely to credit efficient inventory management and supply chain cost savings than a prestige tv star’s abs.

But as an example of how to breathe new life into an often overlooked brand, the ads were hard to beat. It’s hard to overstate how much people were talking about the campaign, and Calvin Klein: according to Launchmetrics, social media engagement was five times Bottega Veneta’s paparazzi-style ads, which were themselves held up as a benchmark for viral marketing success last year.

At The Business of Fashion’s technology summit earlier this month, Calvin Klein chief marketing officer Jonathan Bottomley laid out the strategy behind the campaign, which centres on an “entertainment mentality” where marketing both showcases the product and exists as something people will consume willingly, and not just because they’re forced to endure it to stream more of “The Bear.”

Bottomley also said “we believe in the marketing investments and the culture investments as business drivers.” On Monday, PVH reports fourth-quarter earnings. Thanks to a quirk in its corporate calendar, the results will cover the month of January, which means we’ll hopefully get a good read on whether all those clicks translated into revenue – and whether those ads inspired people to buy more than boxer briefs. In addition to boosting sales of its already popular basics, PVH is eager to nudge Calvin Klein upmarket. Why else would they have also dressed White in a custom tuxedo for the Golden Globes?

Also reporting results this week is Levi’s, which in many respects is where Calvin Klein was this time last year – a brand everyone knows and plenty of people love, but overly reliant on wholesale and at risk of fading into the woodwork. Last week, Levi’s unveiled its own campaign meant to refresh its image, featuring dancers in denim and a “the floor is yours” tagline meant to inspire viewers to recreate the campaign on their own feeds.

Unlike Calvin Klein, this week’s earnings won’t reflect the ad’s impact. But it’s unlikely to have the same effect: the first video, posted on Wednesday to Levi’s Instagram grid, has about 4,000 likes (the first White image on Calvin Klein’s grid has 1.8 million). Levi’s was probably hoping for a bigger moment, but the ad isn’t playing the same role as the White campaign, which in many ways was the capstone on a long-term effort to revitalise Calvin Klein, rather than an opening salvo. In any event, Beyonce may ride to the rescue with her “Levii’s Jeans” track on her just-released country album.

At BoF’s summit, Calvin Klein’s Bottomley opened by asking: “in a culture that is very flat, how do you create those spikes?” It’s a question few brands have figured out how to consistently answer.

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