Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Between Lee And My Calvin's...I Swear

I was flipping through a recent issue of Rolling Stone and came across this new Calvin Klein jeans ad.

And being so desensitized to provocative images in today's advertising I just kept flipping...but then stopped and went back for another look. Now I don't know what you see...but to me it depicts three young guys and one girl, semi-clothed, clearly engaged in sweaty sexual activity which, in my books at least, qualifies as an orgy...a gang bang even.

And I think that crosses the line.

HERE's the television spot that accompanied this ad campaign. It was promptly banned from conventional North American TV, but apparently isn't considered 'too hot' for cable and late-night television in the U.S..

Calvin Klein has a history of pushing the envelope with their ads. Most of us old folk will remember the 1980 TV campaign starring a 15 year old Brooke Shields and what at that time was an incredibly racy tag: "You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing."

Today, of course, those spots seem quaint...cute even, because the risqué line keeps moving. That's the game you see, to successfully navigate the line of titillation and fantasy, as opposed to leaping over the line and into the abyss of taboo, perversion, and sexual deviancy.

At any rate, these new Calvin Klein print images and commercials immediately took me back to their 'kiddie porn' campaign of the mid-90's. Remember?

When those pictures first appeared in magazines, I was like...WTF? And then the TV spots started airing, which you can see in all their 'cheap wood panelled basement' glory below:

I remember just staring at my television...appalled...agape...aghast even. And yes they were promptly pulled after enough people complained, but still...ewwww, what were they thinking?? Though clearly no lesson was learned, as evidenced by this Lee jeans print campaign that ran down under a couple years ago.

I know the placement of the Lee and the whole 'Lolita with a sucker' thing is bad enough, but it's the shirtless male photographer in the background in the mirror that takes it to a new level of yuck. Yet these ads were deemed 'acceptable' by the Advertising Standards Board of Australia...go figure. Or the line has moved again.

Sidebar: I love some of the ways companies like Lee and Calvin Klein defend the ads: "It's not offensive. It is designed to reflect the brand's dynamic and innovative image..." or "...the ads were intended to convey the idea that glamour is an inner quality that can be found in regular people in an ordinary setting; it is not something that is exclusive to movie stars and models."

Um. Yeah. All I can say gentlemen, is Smell The Glove.

So what's my point. Well it certainly isn't to take Calvin Klein or Lee to task for adopting a 'sex sells' philosophy - hell, everyone does it, and we keep buying it. And I will commend the companies for effectively presenting their product in a provocative manner and thus making me remember their brand. But I guess my point is that I will never ever ever purchase or recommend that anyone else purchase a pair of Lee or Calvin Klein jeans, or any of their products for that matter. Because they're not selling sex...they're selling 'ick'.

And I'm not into ick. None of us should be.


wp said...

Good piece, Will. I think the whole idea is to provoke some kind of response -- even a negative one. As you point out, it forces people to pay attention, to note it and to talk about it. Whether or not it sells any more jeans is almost besides the point. A campaign like this is designed to generate attention. It's icky but time and time again this kind of thing works. Unfortunately.

jimhenshaw said...

I'm wondering with all the stories on kids 'sexting" and sharing their own raunchy images via facebook and mobile -- if the Kids aren't maybe a little ahead of the Ad Agency curve and the jeans guys are just playing catch-up.

Christina said...

These ads have always kinda of disturbed me.

Have you seen American Apparel ads? They're just as bad as CK, if not worse. (Following CK's lead.) For example, and this is tame for them - I can't find a good example of the truly pornographic:

The guy that did the CK ads with the faux wood panel set was Bruce Weber.

morjana said...

Hi, Will.

Well, those ads just nudged my "Ewww" factor quite a bit.

I don't get the point of negative response to ads.

I've never, ever liked ANY of the Carl's JR ads -- and I hate their ads so much, I've NEVER patronized one of their establishments.

wcdixon said...

Jim - the kids today sharing raunchy images via mobile/fb is a fairly recent phenomena...whereas borderline pornographic imagery has been being used in ads for decades now.
Isn't it far more likely that the kids are sexting and sharing today 'because' of exposure to ads like these over the years, as opposed to kids being ahead of any curve?