1995 Case Study

1995 Calvin Klein Jeans Campaign

 Calvin Klein has been known to challenge the boundaries of media ethics. As a popular American clothing designer, Klein has diligently mastered the art of provoking awareness and generating profits.   In August of 1995, Klein unveiled a controversial advertising campaign to promote Calvin Klein jeans. According to Tucker (1998), the “August campaign” displayed young models that emphasized sexual susceptibility.  The risqué advertisement campaign was launched in print, specifically located in youth magazines. Tucker notes that the campaign ran in Vanity Fair, YM, and Rolling Stone.  The August campaign was also seen on television in major metropolitan cities.  

The controversy surrounding this campaign dealt with the ideology of objectifying young boys and girls. The advertisements featured models that appeared to be very young and were adorned with basic tank tops and jeans. The background for the photo shoot took place in what appeared to be a basement with wood paneled walls and carpet floors. The “low-budget” qualities of this campaign lead many critics to believe that Klein was an advocate for “kiddie-porn”.

In an article in the New York Times, the CEO of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, a creative advertising agency, was interviewed regarding the August CK jeans campaign.  Kirshenbaum stated, “I’ve been a fan of Calvin Klein and his work. His position has been always a very sexual one. But I feel he crossed a line in the allusions to children or teen-agers and sexuality.” (Elliott, 1995). Many critics felt similarly to Kirshenbaum and described Klein’s campaign has pornographic.

The American Family Association (AFA) was one of the first advocacy groups to take action on the contentious advertising campaign. Soon after the media received wind of the Calvin Klein jeans campaign, they began to criticize it for being unethically sound (Tucker, 1998). Those inside Klein’s press camp denied all allegations of child pornography and claimed they were showing the youth’s independence.  They eventually pulled the campaign due to mainstream uproar.

I believe that Klein’s 1995 campaign was extremely disappointing and exploitative of young children. One print advertisement pictures a young girl lying on her back with her legs open. In this advertisement, the girl depicted couldn’t be more than 14 years old. The wood-paneled walls, gives the image an eerie feeling of a cheap pornographic film. However, the most disturbing asset of this campaign was the mediated sources in which Klein chose to run the advertisements. YM magazine primarily targets adolescent girls as young as 6 or 7.   The fact that a young child in the United States was subjected to this graphic image is highly upsetting. As a communication scholar, I believe that an advertising agency such as Calvin Klein’s in house team, should uphold the ideal of social responsibility.

References

Elliot, S. (1995). Advertising; Will Calvin Klein’s retreat redraw the lines of taste? The New York Times. New York.

Tucker, L. (1998). The framing of Calvin Klein: A frame analysis of media discourse about the August 1995 Calvin Klein jeans advertising campaign. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 15 (2).


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