Calvin Klein's Scandalous Advertising - Morality vs Money

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Case Details:

Case Code : MKTG084
Case Length : 13 Pages
Period : 1974-2003
Pub Date : 2004
Teaching Note :Not Available
Organization : Calvin Klein
Industry : Fashion
Countries : USA

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"Jeans are about sex."1

- Calvin Klein, in September 1991.

"Only soulless corporations such as Calvin Klein, unendowed with social responsibility or morals, are allowed to degrade our freedom and humans rights to make a buck."

- A Chicago Sun Times quote as available on

"The furor caused by Calvin Klein's 1995 jeans campaign, featuring childlike models, most probably is unrivaled in American advertising history."

- 'Ad Agency Employees Give Views on Calvin Klein, Benetton Ads,' Marketing News, September 23, 1996.

Advertisements? OR Child Pornography?

Since its inception, the global fashion industry has been subject to moral and ethical controversies. This is because the diverse socio-cultural norms in different parts of the world make it difficult to define the thin line between fashion and vulgarity. However, there have been times when even the most liberal fashion aficionado was shocked by certain advertisements. The 1995 controversy surrounding one of the world's most popular fashion labels, Calvin Klein, is the perfect example of one such advertisement campaign. This campaign generated unprecedented outrage among the entire United States (US) for its alleged use of youngsters in a sexually provocative manner.

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Termed as 'kiddie porn' (pornography featuring children), this multi-media campaign comprised print and television commercials that were indeed very scandalous. They featured very young teenage boys and girls, who were portrayed as if being auditioned for a performance in an adult movie.

The advertisements began appearing in print, electronic and outdoor media (the YM magazine, music channel MTV and buses for instance) in July 1995 (Refer Exhibit I for the advertisements).

Objections arose against the advertisements throughout the US. Parents, retailing companies (such as Dayton Hudson Corp.) and many child welfare groups (notably, the American Family Association) and religious groups voiced their anger against Calvin Klein.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launched a probe against Calvin Klein in August 1995 to check whether the company had broken any laws.

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1] "I Never Said that Haier and Lenovo are not Brands," An exclusive dialogue with Shelly Lazarus,, February 28, 2005.

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