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The secret of Calvin Klein's success - planning director Martin Harrison recaps the brand's four truths revealed at Cannes

By Martin Harrison | Planning Director

June 26, 2014 | 3 min read

Great work has cultural resonance, it transcends our attempts at targeting and personalisation, it makes the brand famous. And execution is everything.

This was forcefully brought home by Melisa Goldie, Calvin Klein's chief creative officer last week at Cannes Lions as she outlined the four truths of Calvin Klein, which I'll summarise with much less panache below.

  1. Seek simplicity. The best ideas are at heart, simple, easy to understand and iconic.
  2. Dance with controversy. Make work that provokes creates a strong reaction. This makes it impactful and memorable.
  3. Create tension. She described how Calvin Klein would regularly bring several people with opposing points of view to photoshoots or meetings and deliberately provoke a vigorous exchange of views. The resulting work would be tempered by this and emerge all the better for it.
  4. Embrace the culture. Calvin Klein has always reflected and responded to broader cultural trends, using and commenting on changing social mores through its products and advertising.

I'm a great believer in the power of the meaning of words. I used to work with a creative director who would berate clients for saying they were passionate.

Calvin Klein caused a stir in the 90s with its Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg ads

"What do you do? Show me you're passionate. Show me!"

We sometimes as planners discard simple concepts because they don't have sufficient PowerPoint impact. But what Ms. Goldie demonstrated was when you take some pretty obvious and universal maxims, and actually work through the implications, properly and deeply, you end up with the Brooke Shields ad, the Kate Moss and Marky Mark ad, the invention of Men's underwear as a category in fashion, the first ever unisex scent, and #mycalvins, one of the better digital campaigns of the past few years.

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It was great to be reminded of the power of simple, culturally relevant ideas, executed with supreme skill.

Martin Harrison is planning director of Huge.

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