Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Is three a magic number for Calvin Klein?

Who knew that New Yorkers could be offended by anything? Apparently they can be, or at least some of them. The source of their shock and horror a racy new Calvin Klein billboard featuring a young trio - two men and a woman - involved in a three-way couch tryst; a third man, in a state of undress that leave you wondering if he's coming or going - lies nearby on the floor.

Basically, Calvin Klein put up a billboard that it knew would turn heads, generate chatter - like this blog post - and garner media coverage from upset citizens galvanized by the notion that something is wrong in the world today, and can't we all just think of the children. Clearly, the strategy worked. The story's been picked up by several media outlets, and thus the CK brand has earned some free publicity.

It's not the first time that Calvin Klein has stirred up controversy and I suspect it won't be the last. It certainly has brought attention to a brand I don't think about much, and I'd wager has lost luster over the years. But here's the thing: controversy strikes me as about as effective as a brand definer as price. In other words, there's always someone who can be more controversial. At the end of the day, where does that leave you?

Moreover, the further you go, the more jaded and cynical people become about the 'scandal' you hope to create. It's like crying wolf. At some point, people tune you out, unless you respond by going so far beyond the pale that you do get their attention, which happens to be sustained and negative. In which case, you may find yourself in crisis communication mode - issuing apologies that may fall on deaf ears.

It's also worth considering this: if you strip away the controversy, what else is there at the heart of your brand? Potentially nothing. You've set aside the proverbial steak to concentrate on the cliched sizzle. In a way, you've taken your eye and the public's off of your true strength, whatever that is. And they become bored with you, and much harder to seduce.

Speaking of boredom, is it just me, or does the model on the floor in the CK billboard ad look kind of blase, as if even he is tired and turned off by the whole thing?

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