Is outrage fuelling Calvin Klein’s controversial advertising campaigns?

A picture tells a thousand words and the latest Calvin Klein ad campaign has certainly created a thousand words on social media and divided the nation into a love-hate debate. Calvin Klein have controversial ad campaigns down to a fine art and our outrage is only exacerbating their success.

The model Klara Kristin and the photographer Harley Weir both defend the shot and explain that not only is it celebrating the underwear but also Klara’s liberation in being able to celebrate her female form. While some believe it is a beautiful and iconic photograph, which celebrates the beauty of the human body, many are offended by the photograph and accuse it of legitimising a sex crime. Up-skirt shots are legally viewed as sexual harassment; therefore their use in advertising is certainly questionable.

However, what we should really be focussing on is not whether this ad campaign is right or wrong, but how our own behaviour following these ad campaigns encourages brands to take it a step further. The controversial photography has received phenomenal publicity, inspiring more brands to create ad campaigns using equally, if not more provocative photography.

When thought about carefully it is clear that by airing our disgust with this image, we are generating publicity for the brand and are defining the image as scandalous. The influential young target market of Calvin Klein is likely to be attracted to the controversy of this ad campaign. These campaigns create a perception that the brand is rebellious and cool and therefore encourages young men and women to purchase their products, increasing the success of the advertising.

Not only does Calvin Klein profit from this, but other brands also ride on their wake and produce similar ad campaigns. This continued media coverage of controversial sexual images inspires further campaigns and therefore creates a shift in the scale of what is classed as acceptable.

It seems that the problem is not that the imagery is highly sexual but that the images are legitimising sexual harassment, which in turn is normalising the use of ever more sexualised images in advertising. If we want to discourage such advertising campaigns, we need to save our words for those we appreciate instead of wasting them on those that disgust us.

Do you agree? Should we be paying more attention to advertising campaigns that gain our attention for being truly creative or should we be questioning those that use controversy to attract media coverage?

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