Unpacking Calvin Klein's Wildly Successful #MyCalvins Campaign

There are over 179,000 photos on Instagram tagged #MyCalvins. Most are selfies of lean twentysomethings in their beds and bathroom mirrors, proudly united by cotton underwear bearing the name “Calvin Klein.”

The American fashion brand debuted the campaign in early 2014 to promote its underwear, and has since expanded it to market denim. It’s been admirably effective, not only capturing a desirable audience’s attention, but also leading them to create endless streams of user-generated content living on social platforms: a 21st century marketer’s wet dream. For comparion’s sake, there are currently 12k tags on the platform for #HMBalmaination (the upcoming H&M and Balmain fashion collaboration), 69k for #YeezySeason (Kanye West’s clothing and footwear line), and 128k under Nike’s active women’s initiative, #BetterForIt.

An unpaid, authentic post by a friend endorsing a brand is more powerful to young people than obviously paid-for influencer posts, a print ad, or a celebrity endorsement, though the #MyCalvins campaign has relied on all of these at one point in time. Below, we break down how Calvin Klein expertly culled from the past and leveraged influencers and celebrities of the present to impressively explode the organic endorsement of #MyCalvins.

Nostalgia

The hashtag language references a memorable 1981 television ad for Calvin Klein Jeans featuring a teenage Brooke Shields whispering, “You wanna know what comes between me and my Calvin’s? Nothing.” Strong advertising images and soundbites of the brand’s past have been an important component of the #MyCalvins campaign.

Equally as unforgettable are the black-and-white 1992 print ads of Mark Wahlberg (née Marky Mark) and Kate Moss. Both pose in underwear with waistband branding, and occasionally, denim; her thin limbs are laced around his broad frame. These images are most obviously referenced in the Justin Bieber/Lara Stone photos, which mimic a number of things: the pairing of a musician and model; poses; photography style; and product categories shilled. (There’s plenty more on Bieber’s role below.)

Social Influence

With a recognizable slogan in place, #MyCalvins first hit Instagram in February 2014 with an impressive collection of “influencers” posing in CK undies. Many of the personalities tapped — ranging from prominent fashion bloggers like Bryanboy and Aimee Song to music stars like Trey Songz and Fergie — made note that the pieces featured ($28 sports bras, $20 bikini bottoms, and $28 boxer briefs) were gifts. “Thanks for the ‘support,'” wrote Into the Gloss and Glossier founder Emily Weiss, holding a backwards sports bra in front of her chest while earning 3,100 likes on the image. “The gift of tangible nostalgia,” commented Leandra Medine on hers, posted to the @manrepeller account (12.7k likes). “Less is more,” wrote Blonde Salad blogger Ciara Ferragni (53.3k likes). Model Miranda Kerr was the only one to disclose #ad in her post (191k likes).

The images were relatively lo-fi. They had a sense of intimacy, taken in homes and hotel rooms by smart phone cameras; nothing fancy. The visual style these influencers created set the tone for the thousands of photos that crowd the hashtag now: proud displays of the logoed waistband peeking out over sweatpants or under covers; mirror shots aplenty, occasionally styled with a pair of low-slung jeans. Four months into the hashtag, #MyCalvins saw more than 4.5 million interactions between influencer, celebrity, and brand-posted content.

Impact

The #MyCalvins campaign has lead to significant growth on Calvin Klein’s social platforms. Since the February 2014 launch, it’s bulked its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter followings by 2.2 million, 1.8 million, and one million, respectively. It has reached a global audience surpassing 469 million fans, yielding 23.5 million fan interactions. In July, the brand expanded its advertising to Tinder. As chief marketing officer Melisa Goldie explained, the platform is “authentic and true to how this consumer communicates.”

The very best #MyCalvins submissions — from IG, Twitter, and Vine to uploads — go to a dedicated microsite, which is shoppable. Sales, however, are only part of the company’s objective. “The goal is always to sell product,” says Goldie, but “relevance is the driver of commerce.” She explains that “to be a relevant brand means that everyone needs to be talking about you and there has to be a conversation. Sales are 100 percent as important as is driving a relevant conversation.”