This week, a half-naked Jeremy Allen White had the Internet in a virtual chokehold after fashion lifestyle brand Calvin Klein (CK) released its new Spring 2024 campaign featuring the star.
In the images, the 32-year-old actor was seen climbing stairs to the rooftop of a building in downtown New York in a white singlet and black active shorts before stripping down to the brand’s iconic and logo-emblazoned cotton underwear. In the ad, White stretches and flexes his muscles, staring intensely into the camera before lying down on a sofa, tired.
It is a rather simple ad, in fact, it is one we've seen plenty of times from Calvin Klein where celebrities and model alike are filmed flouncing around in the brand's recognisable underwear. However, the Spring 2024 campaign has amassed particular attention and has quickly gone viral.
At the point of writing, the video has garnered over 8.9 million plays, 197k shares and 8.4k comments. So, what is it about this simple ad that's got people revved up?
According to Will Lee, managing director of That Marketing Guy, the answer likely lies in its sex appeal, which is, according to Lee, the brand's greatest strength.
"Sex sells. At least, in this case, it turns heads. Calvin Klein has honed the art of featuring hunky male celebrities in their underwear for decades. This time, they got a chiselled White wandering the streets of New York, and stripping down to his white boxers while doing pull-ups and plonking himself onto a random couch while viewers can admire almost every muscle in his body," said Lee.
Lee also noted that the ad likely gained more eyeballs due to White’s role as Chef Carmy in the show, The Bear, which follows him as he manages a chaotic restaurant in Chicago.
Agreeing with his point, Shouvik Mukherjee, chief creative officer APAC at Golin added on by saying:
Nothing gets more viral than a content whose time has come.
The science of virality
He explained that achieving this level of virality involves a combination of multiple factors. For starters, marketers can try setting a trend rather than following one. Or in the case of Calvin Klein, connecting to a piece of culture that can create engagements.
"While there are many theories around the art and science of ‘going viral’ - the proposed factors seem to be more of a correlation than causation. There are proven ways of creating content that are effective and impactful. And one’s likely to achieve viral salvation by setting a trend rather than following one," said Mukherjee.
Saying that, Mukherjee noted that there is no guaranteed “highway to viral heaven” and that many factors do play into the popularity of something so there isn’t always a science behind it.
Don’t make ‘viral-ness’ a goal
While achieving virality and attention may be the goal or measurement of success for a campaign, Lee warned that it comes with the responsibility of picking a stand and sticking through with it.
"Viral-ness stems from conversions and to have that, we need the viewers to form opinions. Brands need to avoid fence-sitting; they must take a stand - albeit a calculated one. They must plant their flag somewhere in the conversation, yet they mustn't be polarising for the sake of it. By dividing opinions, we spark debates and conversations. Hence, we will get engagements," explained Lee.
Calvin Klein, as Lee mentioned, has been featuring celebrities in campaigns for a long time and for the most part, the brand has taken a stand on empowering all genders through the comfort of the brand's underwear.
In fact, recently, the brand did a similar campaign with British singer FKA Twigs, which caused waves in the industry after it was banned in the UK by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The organisation claimed that the image's composition placed viewers' focus on the model's body rather than on the clothing being advertised, and that her physical features had presented her as a stereotypical sexual object.
Following the ban, ASA said that the ad must not appear again in such form and has asked Calvin Klein to ensure future ads do not irresponsibly objectify women.
In response, Calvin Klein told the ASA that the ad was similar to other ads they had been publishing in the UK for many years. It argued that the images were not vulgar and contained a progressive and enlightened message.
The brand added that as the ad was for clothing, including underwear, a degree of nudity should be expected, but all conventionally sensitive body areas were fully covered in the ad. It also claimed that the style of the imagery in the ad did not encourage the public to view the model’s body as an object.
FKA Twigs also issued a response to the ban saying that she does not see in herself the “stereotypical sexual object” that the organisation claimed.
"I see a beautiful, strong woman of colour whose incredible body has overcome more pain than you can imagine," said FKA Twigs.
Calvin Klein's ability to stay true to its brand is something Mukherjee commends.
Every story from a brand needs to stay true to its ethos and personality.
"It’s critical for any brand to stay true to its own personality. This Calvin Klein ad looks, feels and sounds true to its brand persona. It also delivers a visual stimulus where some audiences may desire the touch of the sun-kissed body of the actor or to even get a whiff of a CK perfume on him. That sensorial connect makes this a classic CK ad and White a true CK man," explained Mukherjee.
Don’t replicate blindly
While the combination of sexual appeal, culture and a consistent brand persona have created large success for Calvin Klein, Mukherjee cautions against marketers copying and pasting the formula.
"To choose a personality to tell a brand’s story in the most effective manner, we follow Golin’s proprietary Accelerators of Relevance model. Rather than picking a face that is the flavour of the season or has a huge fanbase, we analyse five qualitative and quantitative factors,” said Mukherjee.
These are their scale of influence, their current engagement parameters, their connectivity to the cultural moment, their appeal to the brand’s audience, and their receptivity to align with the brand’s voice and personality, Mukherjee explained.
"This helps us identify the most relevant people to tell the brand’s story with credibility, consistency and impact. And I’ll take consistent, measurable impact every time over a viral fluke," he said.
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