ANA Annual Meeting 2015

Calvin Klein CMO's Four Brand Truths For Engagement

Embrace Controversy, Tension, Simplicity, Culture -- And A Justin Bieber Spoof Doesn't Hurt

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Melisa Goldie speaks at the 2015 ANA Masters of Marketing Conference
Melisa Goldie speaks at the 2015 ANA Masters of Marketing Conference Credit: ANA

Melisa Goldie embraces a bit of tension, controversy and intuition when it comes to marketing the Calvin Klein brand and its iconic underwear.

The brand has long used advertising that led to buzz, such as provocative Times Square billboards and ads featuring celebrities such as Mark Wahlberg – better known then as Marky Mark, and more recently, Justin Bieber, wearing nothing but their Calvins.

During a presentation at the Association of National Advertisers Masters of Marketing conference in Orlando on Thursday, Ms. Goldie walked marketers through her four brand truths for engagement: dance with controversy, leverage tension, seek simplicity and embrace the culture.

Ms. Goldie, who was hired by Calvin Klein himself in 2001 and became the brand's chief marketing officer in 2014, says "tension is the fuel on which the Calvin Klein brand has been powered."

She also said that despite all of the analytics and data available to marketers, Calvin Klein relies more on what it thinks will work.

"So much of this brand is about intuition and gut, really," Ms. Goldie said, adding: "We literally just started doing research and analytics in the last two years."

In September 2014, it stirred up some controversy when Justin Bieber took the stage during CBS' telecast of "Fashion Rocks" and stripped down to his Calvin Klein underwear.

While some people in the audience cheered, "even more booed," Ms. Goldie said.

"After that, hiring Justin was the hardest decision I ever made in my 15 years of working on the brand," Ms. Goldie said. She said she felt that hiring him was true to the brand. Doing so was controversial, leveraged tension, was a simple idea and embraced culture.

"Justin Bieber is a disruptive and controversial figure," Ms. Goldie said, noting that 270,000 people signed a petition demanding the White House deport him.

The Calvin Klein spot that debuted a few months later features Mr. Bieber and model Lara Stone. Soon after, "Saturday Night Live" did a parody, starring Kate McKinnon in the role of Mr. Bieber. Ms. Goldie showed clips of both during her afternoon speech.

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"We were thrilled," she said of the SNL spoof. "We were part of the conversation, we were part of popular culture. It doesn't get any better than that."

At the beginning of 2014, the brand launched #MyCalvins. The idea came from what Ms. Goldie calls embracing culture, as people were already tagging Instagram photos of themselves in their Calvin Klein underwear.

And data – not marketing data, but sales data -- suggest its model is working. At the launch of #MyCalvins, the company shipped 2 million units of its modern cotton underwear. For 2016, it projects shipments of seven times that, and Ms. Goldie said the projections increase weekly.

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