It was hard to imagine how Calvin Klein would top its January ad campaign featuring the adored-and-despised pop star Justin Bieber, which generated controversy, derision—and plenty of sales.
But it seems to have done so. On March 26, the brand announced that the model and reality TV star Kendall Jenner would be its new face. The news quickly spread far beyond the fashion media. (“Are You Emotionally Ready to See Kendall Jenner in Her Calvins?” PopSugar’s headline asked.) Currently there are more than 150 stories on Google news devoted to the announcement.
Tapping the 19-year-old Jenner is a smart move for Calvin Klein, not just because it grabs headlines, but also because Jenner is a global marketing force in her own right. And it points to the growing significance of social media—and Instagram in particular—in fashion.
“Kendall’s powerful fan base and global reach will further amplify the current cultural conversation surrounding the Calvin Klein Jeans brand,” Melisa Goldie, chief marketing officer of Calvin Klein said in the press release.
That’s an understatement. Jenner is the reigning queen of fashion Instagram. As Quartz found, she controlled an inordinate amount of engagement during fashion month and got more attention from users than most of the brands putting on the shows she walked in.
Of course, it helps that she’s a member of the Jenner-Kardashian family, which means that pretty much all her immediate relatives (and her in-laws) are celebrities and social media stars themselves. What Calvin Klein gets in the deal isn’t just Jenner, but her network as well.
Within hours of the news about Jenner’s new campaign, her sisters Kourtney Kardashian and Khloe Kardashian, as well as her mother Kris Jenner, had images of Jenner’s Calvin Klein ads up on their Instagram accounts. As of this writing, those images and the one Jenner posted on her own Instagram page have a combined 1.56 million likes. Countless people not associated with the Jenner-Kardashian family have also been posting the ads.
Jenner’s recent predecessor, Bieber, is an attention-getter and massive Instagram star in his own right. Choosing famous and polarizing figures for its ad campaigns is hardly a new strategy for Calvin Klein. On a March 26 earnings call with the brand’s parent company, PVH, CEO Emanuel Chirico pointed out how successful the brand’s campaign with Justin Bieber had been and compared it with the brand’s famous ads from years before. (He didn’t say which ones, but two of the most memorably controversial were this 1980 ad featuring a 15-year-old Brooke Shields and a 1992 ad with Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg, which Justin Bieber’s campaign clearly emulated.)
If Calvin Klein wants to go back to its marketing heyday, it couldn’t do much better than Bieber and Jenner.