Calvin Klein Cosmetics Company

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Calvin Klein Cosmetics Company

1325 Avenue of the Americas, 34th Fl.
New York, New York 10019
Telephone: (212) 479-4300
Fax: (212) 479-4399
Web site:



Calvin Klein Cosmetics Company, a subsidiary of Coty, marketed fragrances under the name of Calvin Klein and cK. In August 1996 Paulanne Mancuso, CEO and president of Calvin Klein Cosmetics, announced the arrival of the latest cK unisex fragrance, cK be. The sequel to the company's extremely successful cK one, cK be was described as a "raceless, genderless, ageless, and shared statement." Each Calvin Klein ad campaign had its own characteristic image and its own particular target market. While the ads for cK one, Calvin Klein's first unisex fragrance, portrayed groups of young, multicultural, mostly androgynous urban men and women, the "cK be" campaign featured an intimate and raw close-up of the individuals within the cK one groups. According to Mancuso, "The 'cK be' campaign pulls you into these people's lives."

There were several similarities in the marketing of cK one and cK be, but the Calvin Klein marketers went further in launching cK be. The advertising of cK one involved images of sharing, groups, and similarities, whereas that of cK be was based on the idea of having the freedom to express oneself while living among a group and about the values and the lifestyles of the generation being portrayed. Whereas cK one was billed as "a fragrance for a man or a woman," cK be was described as "the new fragrance for people."

The ads, which were the creation of Calvin Klein's in-house advertising agency, CRK Advertising, were shot by the photographer Richard Avedon. He featured both well-known and unknown subjects in the commercials and black-and-white portraits. The portraits were paired with "be" statements such as "Be good. Be bad. Just be" and "Be shy. Be bold. Just be." Some magazines ran multipage ads in which the first page was all black with the statement "to be" printed in white. The next page or two contained only black-and-white portraits, while the last page, which also was black, had the words "or not be" printed in white. The last page was also accompanied by a portrait and a pull-apart scented tab.

Avedon took care to portray his models as real, imperfect people. He had the models look directly into the camera as if they were speaking revealingly and intimately about themselves. Most of the models were unusual looking, with many having tattoos and body piercings, and some appeared unkempt. In short, they did not fit the fashion industry's idea of all-American beauty, the type that usually graced slick magazine ads. Perhaps the most recognizable spokesperson for the "cK be" campaign was the model Kate Moss, who bared all of her blemishes and freckles while she also bared her soul. The photograph of Stacey McKenzie emphasized unforgettable lips, freckles, and hair. Other subjects included Theo Kogan, a member of the alternative band Lunachicks; Jason Olive, a popular African American model; and Vincent Gallo, a musician, actor, and writer and director.

The text of the ads was equally provocative. The guitarist Billy White announced, "I find whatever's in my mind is better kept up there. You know what I mean?" In one of the longer ads for cK be a young man told viewers, "You could get hurt. You could get sick. You could do all these things, and if you don't have intimate relationships that are strong, you're really alone. But alone is something I know how to do. Intimacy comes and goes. Alone is forever. Be single. Be plural. Just be." The androgynous female Felix N'Yeurt proclaimed, "I never have to wait in line for the bathroom."


Calvin Klein, president and chief executive of Calvin Klein, Inc., said that he first found a fragrance and then created an image to fit it—"It all starts with the scent." If a company wanted to develop and sell a new fragrance, it contacted several manufacturers. When the desired scent was formulated, a national campaign was introduced to create the image the company's marketing specialists believed would best sell the product. According to Rudy Detz, president of Creative Fragrances Manufacturing, "Without the images associated with brand recognition, the perfume that sells for $150 an ounce simply wouldn't." Detz added, "No one just goes shopping for perfume. They go as a response to the national ads and will ask specifically for a brand." A specific image had already been created with the campaign for cK one, and after the perfume had been on the market for a time, Calvin Klein Cosmetics was able to learn a great deal about the social values, attitudes, and consumer habits of Generation Xers. Marketers knew exactly what to do and where to go when it was time to launch cK be.

The cK be fragrance was developed by Givaudan-Roure, with Ann Gottliebas consultant. The fragrance was described by Klein as sensual, sexy, and personal. In the fragrance industry scents were defined by what were called top, middle, and bottom notes, which were wrapped in a "peace accord." cK be's top note included bergamot, juniper berry, mandarin, mint, and lavender; its middle note was a blend of light spices, magnolia, and peach; and its bottom note was sandalwood with opoponax and tonka bean. According to the company, "cK be contains an exclusive peace accord, made up of clean white musks, that travel throughout the fragrance, wrapping all three notes in sheer sensuality."

Many of Calvin Klein's ad campaigns were controversial. One of his most memorable featured the model Brooke Shields, who, while photographed in various poses wearing Calvin Klein jeans, stated that nothing came between her and her Calvin's. Some of the company's ads were even characterized as "kiddy porn" or as "heroin chic." In contrast, some Calvin Klein ad campaigns portrayed happier, wholesome types. Ads for the Calvin Klein fragrance Eternity portrayed a young family, and those for the men's fragrance Contradiction focused on a virile 26-year-old man with three children. The women's version of Contradiction used the clean-cut model Christie Turlington and the caption "She is always and never the same."

Those who criticized the cK image as one that promoted "skankiness" may not have realized that symbols of Generation Xers such as tattoos (other than the hearts and butterflies of the 1960s), body piercing (other than ears), and Dr. Martens had practically become mainstream. Advertisers knew how to seduce someone in their target market, and one did not have to be a practicing addict to look like one. It was all about image.


People over age 40 tended to use classic fragrances or to use a fragrance they had been using for years, but people between 25 and 40 were more experimental and tended to buy a variety of fragrances. An even younger crowd, those between 18 and 25, tended to buy newer fragrances and spent most of their money on themselves. While cK one targeted this younger group, market research showed that the fragrance was purchased by people as young as 12 and as old as 50. The hip urban image was clearly attractive to a wide age group. Nonetheless, marketers narrowed the target group for cK be to those between 18 and 29 and tailored its ad campaign accordingly. According to Klein, "The whole idea of the cK fragrances stems from Generation X, or people who think that way, who have a young attitude."

Marketers knew that there were always groups of potential consumers outside a specific target market. Perhaps cK be would be attractive to those who were "earth-conscious," for example. The bottle was made of recyclable glass, aluminum, and plastic, and the exterior packaging was constructed of 100 percent recycled fibers. For those who were attracted to an androgynous image, the store displays were no-frill. In both the men's and women's cosmetic areas cK be was displayed on freestanding shelves, not behind a counter, making it highly accessible. Mimi Avins, fashion editor of the Los Angeles Times, suggested that the cK be image might be attractive to feminists and to former members of the counterculture, such as the hippies of the 1960s. Contrary to critics of cK images, Avins wrote, "Their subtext is the perfect antidote to the mendacity of the infuriatingly successful, The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right (Warner, 1996). If the lessons of that backward manual for mentally impaired Cosmo girls were distilled into cK be's haiku, it would read, 'Be fake. Be manipulative. Be gamey. Don't just be.' The Rules advises desperate women to hide behind a false image of perfection for as long as they can hold the pose. The cK be confessions champion honesty, an appropriate tack in this age of full disclosure … The generation that once didn't trust anyone over 30 is now skeptical of anyone who clings to an image that's too squeaky clean."


In 1995 Americans spent $5 billion on fragrances. Approximately 60 percent of the market was in women's fragrances, with the remaining in men's, but it was women who purchased the majority of all scents. It was estimated that more than a hundred new fragrances were introduced every year, with advertisers spending millions of dollars on a new scent before it ever hit the retail market. There were classic scents such as Chanel No. 5, Joy by Jean Patou, Arpege by Lanvin, and Shalimar by Geurlain, all of which had been around for years and did not need aggressive advertising. Some fragrances could be purchased only at certain exclusive retail stores, while other could be found at department stores and at duty-free shops. Still others were sold in drugstores, supermarkets, and discount stores. The points of purchase often reflected exclusivity, trendiness, and price.

cK be had an introductory budget of $20 million, compared to cK one's $17-18 million, which may have given it the largest budget for any of the so-called prestige fragrances introduced in 1996. The introductory budget for Elizabeth Taylor's Passion, for example, was between $4 million and $6 million. Other prestige fragrances introduced at the same time included Ocean Dream by Giorgio Beverly Hills and Cosby Estee Lauder. Some consumers may have been confused by the fact that, at the time cK be was launched, Bebe also introduced its new fragrance, called 2be. Like Calvin Klein, other clothing designers such as Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis, and Tommy Hilfiger were also introducing fragrances for both men and women, often to go along with a line of apparel. Also riding on the designer fragrance bandwagon were apparel stores such as Gap, American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch, and even Eddie Bauer, all of which had introduced fragrances with their own particular images. What was new about the cK fragrance line was that the same scent was marketed for both men and women.


Even before cK be was in stores, teaser ads appeared on billboards, on the sides of buses, and on bus shelters. Other outdoor advertising included images projected onto a surface comprised of a thin mist of water (hydro-illumination) and the world's largest air banner, which was flown over selected beaches during the 1996 Labor Day weekend.

During the launch period cK be scent strips were put in a variety of magazines popular with young women, including Cosmopolitan, Vogue, YM, and W, and in magazines read mostly by men, including GQ and Playboy. The scent strips were also put in magazines like Vanity Fair, which had a balance of male and female readership, and in magazines like Spin, Vibe, Paper, and Ray Gun, which had a large young male and female readership. In total, cK be was advertised in 48 publications. About a month or so before the fragrance was due to be stocked in stores, full-page ads depicting the brand concepts of individuality and freedom began to appear in magazines. There were also 30-second radio spots, and billboards and posters appeared in some 15 markets. In September 1996 the Avedon commercials debuted during the season premieres of several television shows popular with the target market, including The X-Files, Friends, Melrose Place, and Suddenly Susan.


Attacks on various aspects of Calvin Klein campaigns were not uncommon, with the charges often centering on the images used in the ads. There were even anti-Calvin Klein websites on the Internet. Nevertheless, his fragrances, fashion apparel, and home fashions remained among the most popular brands.

Perhaps the most significant marketing strategy was an innovative promotional deal between Calvin Klein Cosmetics and Ticketmaster. Calvin Klein's Mancuso thought that "taking the scent to where these guys live" was an effective way to reach their target market. Ads for cK be were printed on the backs of tickets and in Live, the Ticketmaster magazine. Both the tickets and their envelopes were scented with cK be, with 9 million tickets being been sold during September and October 1996 alone. Another innovative departure from the traditional scent strips found in magazines was the distribution of 4 million wristbands with resealable fragrance strips. In addition, 3 million sample vials of cK be were attached to magnets and distributed at various events, concerts, and stores. To attain additional direct contact with the target market, Calvin Klein Cosmetics helped sponsor, along with Tower Records and Rolling Stone magazine, a 15-day nationwide tour featuring three of Capitol Records' newest alternative bands—The Figgs, Smoking Popes, and Jimmy Eat World.


cK be was the most successful of all fragrances launched in 1996, and it did well both in the U.S. and in global markets. It was expected to generate $30 million during the first season but actually generated $45 million. Further, cK be placed in the number 10 spot among all fragrance brands in 1996. In 1997, however, cK be ranked number 21 and by mid-1998 had dropped to number 51. In addition to having success in sales, the Calvin Klein marketers continued to impress the fragrance industry and consumers with their use of provocative advertising.


Albers Jackson, Barbara. "It's Time to Raise a Stink about That cK be Perfume Ad." Tennessean, October 24, 1996.

Avins, Mimi. "By Letting Be, Klein's Ads Break the Rules." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 2, 1997.

Born, Pete. "Calvin's New Contradiction." Women's Wear Daily, June 12, 1998, p. 29.

―――――――. "cK be: Chart Buster's Sequel." Women's Wear Daily, May 24, 1996, p. 6.

―――――――. "An Industry with Be's in Its Bonnet." Women's Wear Daily, August 30, 1996, p. 4.

Do Re Be Women's Wear Daily, August 23, 1996.

Elliott, Stuart. "Campaign for New cK Emphasizes Youthful Look." Harrisburg Patriot, August 20, 1996.

―――――――. "$20 Million Plus Ad Campaign Kicks Off New Klein Scent." Ottawa Citizen, September 12, 1996.

Kroh, Joseph. "The Sweet Smell of Success: Millions of Advertising Dollars Are Behind All Those High-Priced Colognes and Perfumes." Business First of Louisville, September 2, 1996.

                                             Christine Miner Minderovic

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Calvin Klein Cosmetics Company

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