Iconix Brand Group, Inc.

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Iconix Brand Group, Inc.

215 W. 40th Street
New York, New York 10018
Telephone: (212) 730-0030
Fax: (212) 730-0030
Web site: www.candiesinc.com



In 1978 Candie's shoes, especially a model called the Slide (a high-heeled slip-on), became a "must have" fashion accessory for America's teenage population. The shoe's popularity, as well as the company's fortunes (which peaked at approximately $190 million in sales in 1984), waned as fashion fads changed in the late 1980s. In the mid-1990s Candie's Inc. was still designing and manufacturing women's and girl's casual and fashion footwear, but its brand was considered passé by its core market of teenage girls. Hoping to revive its brand and trigger a sales upsurge similar to the one in 1978, Candie's released its "Jenny McCarthy for Candie's" campaign.

The $4 million campaign was conceived by Candie's CEO Neil Cole and Candie's in-house advertising agency, InMarketing, Inc. "Jenny McCarthy for Candie's" surfaced in February 1997 as a print campaign with risqué images of the former Playboy Playmate of the Year and NBC sitcom star Jenny McCarthy. The ads featured McCarthy in a variety of poses (most of them in the bathroom) wearing Candie's shoes. One of the most contentious images featured an almost-nude McCarthy sitting on a toilet wearing nothing but her panties and a pair of Candie's shoes. Despite the ads being rejected by almost every consumer magazine except for Spin, the controversy surrounding them brought Candie's back into the limelight. McCarthy returned in 1998 for two Candie's TV spots titled "Just Screw It," which parodied a Nike shoe commercial. In 2001 McCarthy was featured in a Candie's campaign that consisted of a set of print ads and one television spot that doubled as public service announcements discouraging teenage pregnancy. The actress reappeared in 2004 to advertise Candie's shoes with print ads that paired McCarthy with American Idol singing-contest winner Kelly Clarkson.

Although the majority of the campaign was deemed by many to be in poor taste, it catapulted Candie's into the headlines over and over again. In 1998 Fortune listed Candie's, which was later renamed Iconix Brand Group, Inc., as one of the top 25 fastest-growing companies in the United States.


The history of the Cole family shoe business and the Candie's brand was full of ups and downs. When Neil Cole and his brother Kenneth were boys, they spent much of their time in and around their father's dilapidated shoe factory in Brooklyn, New York. The company, called El Greco, was moderately successful until 1978, when father Charles and son Kenneth took a trip to Italy. There they stumbled upon a shoe unlike any El Greco had ever made. The backless, toeless slip-on had a chunky wooden wedge sole and a 2 1/2-inch, pencil-thin high heel. The Coles bought 600 pairs on sight and began importing them to the states. When actress Olivia Newton-John wore a similar style in the 1978 hit movie Grease, the shoe's popularity took off. Within five years the Cole's small family business had sold more than 14 million pairs of Candie's Slides and increased its sales 60 times over.

Young women aged 14 to 30 who aspired to be part of the fashion in-crowd were constantly bedecked in their skintight Jordache or Sasson jeans, tiny tube tops, and Candie's Slides. Advertising for the shoes took a straight-forward "sex sells" attitude, as print ads and television commercials depicted scantily clad coeds running around college dormitories (wearing their Candie's, of course).

In 1982 son Kenneth left to start his own shoe company. The Kenneth Cole brand became one of the best-known designer shoe labels in America. He developed a unique advertising style by integrating issues of the day (usually political) in his ads. Through the years Kenneth Cole ads featured messages related to AIDS, the homeless, the rain forest, cloning, right-wing politics, and even presidential intern Monica Lewinsky. By 1997 Cole had built his business to more than $148 million in sales. In 1985 it was Neil's turn to go out on his own. He went into the jeans business, registering the name "No Excuses." Continuing the family tradition of controversial advertising, Cole used "notorious" models in his print ads and television commercials, including Donna Rice, the former mistress of presidential candidate Gary Hart.

By that time the shoe business was beginning to slide. Candie's were out of fashion and piling up in bins at discount stores. Charles Cole retired, and the business was sold in 1986. But Neil decided he wanted it back, so along with a group of individual investors, he purchased the company in 1991.

At first Cole brought out new designs of Timberland-style hiking boots, practical sneakers, and comfortable sandals with thick heels. Advertising was simple, earthy, and home-oriented, featuring lace curtains and bowls of fruit. Forbes magazine quoted Cole as saying, "We've traded the flash and trash of the Eighties for a more Nineties look. I'm no longer interested in fads that are here today, gone tomorrow."

But the "Nineties look" was not selling. So Cole, tuning in to the "retro" trend in fashion (the return of styles from the 1970s and 1980s) and besieged with requests for Candie's Slides from fashion editors and buyers, decided to bring the line back. To attract Candie's original customers who remembered the shoe from their own teen years, Cole introduced an upscale version of the shoe by forming alliances with four of the country's top women designers. In 1996 Cole announced that Anna Sui, Betsey Johnson, Nicole Miller, and Vivienne Tam would each be designing a line of Candie's Slides. In 1997, with the introduction of the Jenny McCarthy campaign, Candie's once again became a household word.


In many an American household the Candie's name became one more crack in the typical rift between teenagers and their parents. Although some products may have had crossover appeal, attracting numerous age groups, Candie's Slides were clearly and purposely marketed to 12- to 24-year-old females. When the shoes first came out in the late 1970s, many parents forbade their daughters to wear them, disapproving of the "image" they created. Naturally, young girls only became more determined to wear them. Many of those women, grown up and with teenagers of their own, voiced their disapproval of Candie's in the 1990s—not so much of the shoes but of the Jenny McCarthy advertising campaign. Once again, those protests only served to spur on Candie's sales.

In 1997 Jill Kilcoyne of Teen-age Research Unlimited in Northbrook, Illinois, estimated that U.S. teenagers spent $84 billion of their own money and $38 billion of their parents' money. Candie's was targeting this strong spending market, and alienating parents was a way of creating a bond with its young customers. Jenny McCarthy was Candie's way of cementing that bond. Focus groups showed that teens loved her flamboyant personality and off-center sense of humor. When asked about the Candie's bathroom ads, David Conn, Candie's director of marketing, told Anne Moncreiff Arrarte of the Houston Chronicle, "Our audience finds the visuals cute and funny. Granted, there's a fine line between what is gross and what is cute, but we care about how our customers react—not adults." One of the main reasons McCarthy was chosen to model Candie's was that teens identified with her and parents did not. In fact, Candie's CEO Neil Cole told Marcia Pledger of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the company did not want teens to know that their mothers had worn the Slides 15 years earlier. Said Cole, "We think this girl wants to think she's discovering fashion and that she's a part of a fashion trend."


The retro fashion trend that was so beneficial to Candie's did not spill over to all shoe companies. Two of Candie's largest competitors, Nike and Nine West, were plagued by negative publicity and disappointing earnings. Nike's success in signing golf champion Tiger Woods just before he won the Masters tournament at the age of 20 was a marketing coup for the company. Nike faced tough national criticism, however, when reports surfaced about human-rights violations and unfair labor practices in its Asian plants. Nine West reported lower-than-expected earnings for 1997, partly as a result of the fact that the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating its accounting practices.

Athletic endorsements for shoe companies were as popular as ever. Converse signed controversial basketball star Dennis Rodman to a multiyear endorsement deal, and Fila USA inked a seven-year, $80 million contract with Grant Hill. Yet among all the celebrity endorsements, Candie's McCarthy campaign was a standout. In December 1997 Footwear News stated, "Candie's will be remembered in 1997 for one of the most indelible ad images, featuring unforgettable MTV diva Jenny McCarthy in a spunky, tongue-in-cheek print campaign."


In the mid-1990s Candie's conducted an extensive search for someone to represent the Slide to its target market. That search revealed that MTV's Jenny McCarthy rated most popular with those 12 to 24 years old. McCarthy, who originally studied to be a nurse, had become Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1994. Within the next few years her career skyrocketed. She became a guest veejay on MTV then got the job as host of that channel's irreverent version of The Dating Game, called Singled Out. Soon she had her own skit-oriented show on MTV. She later starred in her own sitcom on NBC, although it lasted less than one season. During this time Candie's chose her to be the spokeswoman for its $4 million print campaign, and on February 10, 1997, she made her first personal appearance at New York's famed Macy's department store. Hundreds of teenage fans waited in line for hours to catch a glimpse of her and to get her autograph.

Candies and its then in-house advertising agency, InMarketing, Inc., showed McCarthy three advertising concepts, and she chose the "bathroom" theme. In an E!Online interview with McCarthy she was asked if she sought out controversy. She replied, "I really don't. I didn't want to be, like, the Madonna shock wave of the entertainment industry. I thought of [the ads] as something that made fun of myself."


Candie's toilet-based advertisements featuring Jenny McCarthy may have generated the most controversy in 1997, but they were not the only ones that appeared that year. In a much tamer ad for Vanish toilet bowl cleaner, a woman named Pat Mayo (a real person) from Hometown, Illinois (a real place), stood next to her porcelain treasure and told viewers, "I have the cleanest and nicest-smelling bathroom in the neighborhood. If anybody doesn't believe me, ring my doorbell and you can smell my toilet!" And, lest little children feel left out, Mattell introduced a toddler-sized doll called Potty Training Kelly. Commercials for the toy showed a child playing with the doll, pulling down its pants, sitting it on the toilet, and listening to it "tinkle."

Celebrity and fashion photographer Davis Factor, a member of the legendary Max Factor family, shot the print ads. They depicted McCarthy in a series of bathroom scenes: as a sultry nightclub performer singing into the shower head wearing a red sequined dress, as a glamorous femme fatale painting her finger nails while dressed in a sophisticated full slip, and as a sexy maid at work scrubbing the toilet in a bubblegum-pink nightie.

The most controversial ad was shot in two versions. In both McCarthy was sitting on the toilet with her panties down around her ankles. In one she was wearing an orange T-shirt and a pair of orange Candie's. In the second she was wearing nothing but the shoes. The company claimed that there was no message to this edgy advertising. Its marketing director David Conn told the Northern New Jersey Record that Candie's was simply attempting to sell shoes. "We're a $100 million company trying to compete with the like of Hilfiger and Guess," said Conn. "We can't outspend them, so we have to create a stir." CEO Neil Cole told Footwear News in February 1998, "Our advertising philosophy is to create brand awareness. We don't think people buy product either way based on whether they like the ad. With our advertising, the key is to drive them to be intrigued by the brand."

With a spike in sales following its 1997 print ads, the next year Candie's tripled its ad spending to an estimated $13.5 million. In August 1997 most television stations, including New York's WCBS and WNBC, rejected a Candie's commercial featuring McCarthy that was designed to sell Candie's Durango ankle boots. In the spot the actress was talking on the phone while a plumber worked under her sink. "I'm getting my crack fixed," she told her friend. "It's so big, it's smiling at me." McCarthy then climbed down and joined the plumber, exposing her own backside in the process.

On February 1, 1998, McCarthy was featured in two TV spots with the tagline "Just Screw It," in which she demonstrated her lack of athletic prowess as she wore the new line of Candie's fashion sneakers. Fearing litigation for the commercials' adulterated use of Nike's "Just Do It" tagline, MTV and other networks refused to air the spots. Three years later McCarthy and the pop group Destiny's Child made public appearances to promote the Candie's Foundation, a new organization created by Neil Cole to discourage teenage pregnancy in America. In one spot for the organization McCarthy warned a teenage couple not to have unprotected sex and then handed the girl a wailing newborn to heighten the reality of pregnancy. Print ads also featured McCarthy wearing a new Candie's clothing line and included text that advised against teenage pregnancy. In 2004 McCarthy surfaced again to promote Candie's shoes in ads that hinted at her controversial 1997 images. Sitting on a toilet, McCarthy wore little besides Candie's shoes. This time she appeared alongside singer Kelly Clarkson, winner of the contest American Idol, who wore nothing but Candie's shoes while soaking in a bathtub. The ads ran in the April and May issues of magazines popular with the teen-girl target, including YM, Teen People, Elle Girl, Teen Vogue, Hollywood Life, and Jane.


Despite the controversy, or more likely because of it, Candie's campaign became one of the most successful marketing events of 1997. In December of that year Footwear News reported that since the campaign began, brand recognition for Candie's had increased by 90 percent. Sales for the first quarter of 1997 jumped to $16.9 million from $6.8 million in the previous quarter. During the same time period the company's earnings went up to $823,338, or 6 cents a share, compared with a loss of $423,338, or 5 cents a share, during the same period in 1996.

The campaign, like most of Candie's history, had its ups and downs. It was originally scheduled to appear in national magazines including Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, InStyle, Mademoiselle, Marie Claire, Seventeen, Vogue, and YM. Several of the magazines, including Seventeen, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue, refused to run some of the ads. The only magazine that ran the ad of McCarthy without her T-shirt was Spin, and the ad only ran once.

Candie's also aborted an attempt to have McCarthy sell a sneaker the company called "microsoft." The shoe was part of a line of computer-themed footwear with names such as Dot Com, Mega Byte, Web Site, and Crash. The company, however, did not get permission from Microsoft to use its name, and, after being "asked" by Bill Gates's legal department to stop using the name, Candie's pulled the ads.

To top it off, Time Magazine chose the Candie's campaign as the worst advertisement of 1997, saying, "Candie's bathroom humor, even when good, is still, well, bathroom humor. Putting the scatological Jenny McCarthy on a toilet, panties wrapped around her calves, to sell Candie's shoes couldn't raise this print campaign above the level of potty chic."

Nonetheless Jenny McCarthy—along with later Candie's spokeswomen that included Kelly Clarkson, the actress Hillary Duff, the pop singer Ciara, and the country-rock trio the Dixie Chicks—helped Candie's reclaim the status it had in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When asked by Footwear News in February 1998 why the company was focusing so much on advertising and promotions, Neil Cole replied, "We think of ourselves as a marketing company that happens to be in footwear."

For 1998 the brand posted shoe sales of $93 million, considerably less than the company's 1984 high-water mark of $190 million. During the years of the campaign Candie's continued to meet with success. Between 2003 and 2004 the company's stock more than doubled. In July 2005 Candie's changed its name to Iconix Brand Group, Inc.; Candie's had already sold licenses for most of its brands, including Candie's, the Bongo footwear line, and the recently acquired clothing line Badgley Mischka. Neil Cole wanted the enterprise's name changed as it expanded beyond just being a footwear designer and into a brand-management company.


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"The Best and Worst of '97." Time Magazine, December 19, 1997.

Fox, Danielle, "Skin Trade; As Footwear Companies Continue to Sex Up Their Marketing Images, Many Are Left Wondering." Footwear News, February 26, 2001, p. 50.

Ivry, Bob. "Shock of the Rude: Selling to Gen-X." Bergen County (NJ) Record, October 3, 1997.

Krol, Carol, and Laura Petrecca, "Footwear Marketer Candie's Seeks Shop for Brand Project," Advertising Age, September 21, 1998, p. 3.

Kroll, Luisa. "Like My Shoes." Forbes, April 7, 1997.

Lenetz, Dana, "Candie's Celeb Ads Tell Teens to Be Survivors." Footwear News, May, 7, 2001, p. 6.

Pledger, Marcia. "Girl Power Makes Waves with Retailers." Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 1, 1998.

Quick, Rebecca, "Candie's Restates Results, as SEC Probes Accounting." Wall Street Journal, September, 23, 1999, p. B19.

"Sweet Success." Footwear News, February 9, 1998.

"Year on the Edge." Footwear News, December 29, 1997.

                                           Sharyn Kolberg

                                             Kevin Teague