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Unpacking Calvin Klein's Wildly Successful #MyCalvins Campaign

There are over 179,000 photos on Instagram tagged #MyCalvins. Most are selfies of lean twentysomethings in their beds and bathroom mirrors, proudly united by cotton underwear bearing the name "Calvin Klein."

The American fashion brand debuted the campaign in early 2014 to promote its underwear, and has since expanded it to market denim. It's been admirably effective, not only capturing a desirable audience's attention, but also leading them to create endless streams of user-generated content living on social platforms: a 21st century marketer's wet dream. For comparion's sake, there are currently 12k tags on the platform for #HMBalmaination (the upcoming H&M and Balmain fashion collaboration), 69k for #YeezySeason (Kanye West's clothing and footwear line), and 128k under Nike's active women's initiative, #BetterForIt.

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An unpaid, authentic post by a friend endorsing a brand is more powerful to young people than obviously paid-for influencer posts, a print ad, or a celebrity endorsement, though the #MyCalvins campaign has relied on all of these at one point in time. Below, we break down how Calvin Klein expertly culled from the past and leveraged influencers and celebrities of the present to impressively explode the organic endorsement of #MyCalvins.


The hashtag language references a memorable 1981 television ad for Calvin Klein Jeans featuring a teenage Brooke Shields whispering, "You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvin's? Nothing." Strong advertising images and soundbites of the brand's past have been an important component of the #MyCalvins campaign.


Left: Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss, 1992; Right: Justin Bieber and Lara Stone, 2015

Equally as unforgettable are the black-and-white 1992 print ads of Mark Wahlberg (née Marky Mark) and Kate Moss. Both pose in underwear with waistband branding, and occasionally, denim; her thin limbs are laced around his broad frame. These images are most obviously referenced in the Justin Bieber/Lara Stone photos, which mimic a number of things: the pairing of a musician and model; poses; photography style; and product categories shilled. (There's plenty more on Bieber's role below.)

Influencers on Instagram

Thanks for the "support" CK #mycalvins

A photo posted by Emily Weiss (@emilywweiss) on

With a recognizable slogan in place, #MyCalvins first hit Instagram in February 2014 with an impressive collection of "influencers" posing in CK undies. Many of the personalities tapped — ranging from prominent fashion bloggers like Bryanboy and Aimee Song to music stars like Trey Songz and Fergie — made note that the pieces featured ($28 sports bras, $20 bikini bottoms, and $28 boxer briefs) were gifts. "Thanks for the 'support,'" wrote Into the Gloss and Glossier founder Emily Weiss, holding a backwards sports bra in front of her chest while earning 3,100 likes on the image. "The gift of tangible nostalgia," commented Leandra Medine on hers, posted to the @manrepeller account (12.7k likes). "Less is more," wrote Blonde Salad blogger Ciara Ferragni (53.3k likes). Model Miranda Kerr was the only one to disclose #ad in her post (191k likes).

The images were relatively lo-fi. They had a sense of intimacy, taken in homes and hotel rooms by smart phone cameras; nothing fancy. The visual style these influencers created set the tone for the thousands of photos that crowd the hashtag now: proud displays of the logoed waistband peeking out over sweatpants or under covers; mirror shots aplenty, occasionally styled with a pair of low-slung jeans. Four months into the hashtag, #MyCalvins saw more than 4.5 million interactions between influencer, celebrity, and brand-posted content.

Social Celebrities

Tapping celebrities who come pre-loaded with millions of followers is a no-brainer for smart brands, particularly those looking to engage with the lucrative millennial age group. Calvin Klein's chosen ones come in the form of Kendall Jenner and Justin Bieber (strong arm emoji).

Bieber flaunts over 150 million followers across his social platforms, and was ranked by Twitter as the most tweeted about musical artist of 2014. On top of that, he basically begged for the contract: "I have been wearing Calvin Klein underwear for years in hopes of getting to model for the brand one day," he told WWD. He used the dedicated hashtag in hopes of catching the company's eye. "Last spring, I posted a picture on Instagram in my underwear, using the #mycalvins tag. Thankfully the brand saw it and liked the reaction it was getting, and a relationship started from there."

Justin Bieber's Thirsty Timeline:

March 13, 2014: The singer appears on the cover of Rolling Stone in CK underwear with visible logo waistband (the title of his profile: "Bad Boy").

May 2014: JB Instagrams himself in the underwear numerous times, including on May 5 with Yovanna Venutra, May 21 in Cannes ("with the homies"), and May 26 with Usher.

September 2014: Justin Bieber and Lara Stone appear on stage together at the charity fundraiser event Fashion Rocks to introduce a performance by Rita Ora (who had her own public CK undies moment in May of that year). The crowd boos as soon as Bieber appears and he awkwardly takes off all of his clothes except for a pair of black Calvin Klein boxer briefs. The crowd cheers, Ora performs. Bieber, who wasn't yet a paid face of the brand, later admitted the logo flash was planned — by him. "Fashion Rocks was a teaser for sure," he said months later. "We had started working together before the show, but [Calvin Klein] didn’t know what I was planning to do on stage."

January 2015: Bieber's campaign is finally released. There's much discussion over the parallels to the 1992 Marky Mark images and of the legitimacy of JB's bulge. An SNL spoof ensues.

As a direct result of the Bieber campaign, Calvin Klein has benefited from 3.6 million additional followers across its social channel, WWD reported shortly after its launch. Justin told the trade paper that the modeling gig is part of larger fashion plans; a "transitioning tool." He's become friendly with Olivier Rousteing, the social butterfly designer behind Balmain who is also buddy-buddy with Jenner (and the rest of the Kardashian-Jenner-West gang), wearing the French brand to this year's Met Gala, his first invite to fashion's biggest party.

Jenner came on board this spring to front for the denim extension of #MyCalvins. Her announcement as a brand face was debuted on Instagram, naturally, with a regram she had posted a year earlier, on March 14, 2014 ("Thank you for the little gifts," she wrote at the time). Her debut campaign was for the Calvin Klein Jeans Denim Series, a streetwear-influenced collection exclusive to Opening Ceremony, bastion of cool, and


Relevance is the driver of commerce.

The #MyCalvins campaign has lead to significant growth on Calvin Klein's social platforms. Since the February 2014 launch, it's bulked its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter followings by 2.2 million, 1.8 million, and one million, respectively. It has reached a global audience surpassing 469 million fans, yielding 23.5 million fan interactions. In July, the brand expanded its advertising to Tinder. As chief marketing officer Melisa Goldie explained, the platform is "authentic and true to how this consumer communicates."

The very best #MyCalvins submissions — from IG, Twitter, and Vine to uploads — go to a dedicated microsite, which is shoppable. Sales, however, are only part of the company's objective. "The goal is always to sell product," says Goldie, but "relevance is the driver of commerce." She explains that "to be a relevant brand means that everyone needs to be talking about you and there has to be a conversation. Sales are 100 percent as important as is driving a relevant conversation."


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