Calvin Klein CCO outlines ‘brand truths’ at Cannes Lions festival

Calvin Klein Melisa Goldie, Cannes Lions

Creating consumer engagement today depends on the passion and courage put in by the brand, said Melisa Goldie, CCO of Calvin Klein at the 61st annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this past week.

“Talent and truth, and craftsmanship and creativity, are all really important, but they’re only important if you’re passionate about your beliefs… and then brave enough to say it,” she explained.

That thought followed a presentation outlining the four ‘brand truths’ of Calvin Klein – principles she referred to as the underpinning of its marketing messaging for nearly four decades, and the very focus that enables it to be both passionate and accordingly brave. They include seeking simplicity, dancing with controversy, leveraging tension and embracing culture.

Simplicity is a straightforward one, she said. “Think simply, but with rigorous attention.” She referenced Michelangelo’s statue of David – when asked how he carved it from a single piece of rock, he said it was simple: he just removed everything that wasn’t David.

“Calvin and controversy have long been friends,” she quipped for the next truth, highlighting such campaigns as it’s 1982 men’s underwear ad in Times Square starring Olympic pole vaulter Tom Hintnaus that literally stopped traffic. “It ushered in a new era of objectifying men,” she said. “It led to the acceptance of the male form in mainstream American advertising.”

Importantly, controversy can mean relevancy, making a brand seem modern and interesting, she highlighted. “From a business perspective, [that] then means very high ROI.”

Leveraging tension – the next brand truth – does of course sit very neatly hand-in-hand with this at times. For Calvin Klein it’s often been about leveraging visual or sexual tension, such as between Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss with their iconic shoot in 1992.

katemoss_markwahlberg_CalvinKlein

But Goldie also suggested examples of other brands who dutifully play off different tensions. Nike leverages the idea of who a consumer wants to be and their couch: Dove sits between self doubt and a truer definition of beauty; and Apple has always looked to self actualisation and conforming, between the individual and the organisation, and between us and them. The latter’s now infamous 1984 ad is “one of the best examples of leveraging tension the industry has ever created”, Goldie said.

The brand’s final truth is about embracing culture, something Goldie said Calvin Klein has both been shaped by and has helped shape. “We have always been willing to get into bed with popular culture. It has allowed us to create deeper and more committed relationships with our consumers.”

That idea is ever more relevant today, she said, as we evolve into a world where culture happens ‘digital first’. “The dawn of the digital age means culture is more relevant [for brands] than ever before. You have to look at culture through a digital lens, then decide which changes are meaningful for you and which ones can help you shape and grow.”

Importantly, digital enables a brand to see relationships and communities being formed at far greater speed, she emphasised. “It’s now on their terms,” she said with regards to how consumers engage with your brand and the value of allowing them to feel increasingly involved in it. The #mycalvins campaign, which crowdsources selfies of fans in their Calvin Klein underwear, is her team’s efforts to respond to that.

“Today [consumers] have a personal role to play in the Calvin Klein story. We don’t want to be their parents, we want to be their partners.”

Stay tuned for a full round-up of the fashion campaigns that won at this year’s Cannes Lions festival later this week.

Photo credit: Getty Images