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Why is no one outraged by Calvin Klein’s latest underwear ad?

Calvin Klein

 

Is it us, or is the latest “Calvin Klein or Nothing At All” social media ad featuring Kirsten Dunst, launched earlier this year smack of inappropriate sexual behavior? https://www.facebook.com/CalvinKlein/videos/1898606370156442/

The ad depicts the scantily clad actor (in black Calvin Klein undies) talking sheepishly about her first kiss when a guy landed a non-consensual kiss on her mouth, which last time we checked is really not OK. The context might be understood better if she wasn’t telling the story half naked and although she says she was upset, her nonchalant attitude about it speaks volumes and not good volumes.

For us, this ad just highlighted the importance of all people in the chain of getting a campaign into the public domain to raise their hands if the ad isn’t appropriate.

Why didn’t any of the brand experts, marketers, advertisers or media specialists who work at or for Calvin Klein put their hand up and say that this ad is not a great idea? Although there were no official complaints to an advertising body, all was not well within the comments on the ad. Despite this the ad was still running after over a week – so was no one reading the comments. Potential customers, called out the ad, and the professionals should have done the same? Indeed, it is part of a media agency’s role to advise their clients against inappropriate ads and have the courage to say “no”, even if it means ultimately losing the business.

 

It is interesting that the TV ad from this campaign is a short clip without this interview, is this because the interview wouldn’t pass the tougher standards for TV ad content. If that’s the case then doesn’t this actually support that more needs to be done to improve the quality control of digital advertising?

It’s not the first time that Calvin Klein has pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable. In its 49 years, the brand has been criticised for promoting gang rape, violence, child pornography, and drug use. In 2010 the Australian ad watchdog banned an ad featuring model, Lara Stone being held in a compromising way by three men, like a plaything, saying it was "suggestive of violence and rape”. A young Kate Moss said that having to walk around topless for the 1992 ad with Marky Mark at the age of 17 resulted in a nervous breakdown. In 2016 a Calvin Klein Instagram ad campaign carried the strapline, “I make money in #myCalvins” with an image of a man’s face and “I flash in #myCalvins” with an image taken up a woman’s skirt. If that’s not gender stereotyping and degrading to women, then what is?!

It’s not new, but what makes this so relevant now is the very public discussions around sexual harassment across Hollywood and politics. The #metoo campaign which has empowered thousands of ordinary people to talk out about sexual assault to call-out to victims ‘so we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem’ followed the recent news and was trending in the same week this ad was running.

There wasn’t a media maelstrom, and we were surprised about this. We think Calvin Klein were lucky to avoid this. There is a fundamental issue at heart here and that is the moral and ethical responsibility advertisers, media agencies, businesses and society as a whole have. Calvin Klein is a young, fashionable brand, what message is it sending out when its ad implies it’s OK to make an unwelcome pass at someone? The World Health Organisation indicated that in 2016 about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. That is a terrifying stat. At the very least, everyone in our industry should be trying to make sure we are not normalising this with negative or misleading messaging.

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