Calvin Klein has come out smelling like a rose, again. At least his provocative print advertising campaign for Obsession perfume sure has.
When 24,000 consumers were recently asked to name the most memorable print advertisements of the past year, more of them remembered Calvin Klein's sensuous ads than any others. It was the fourth year in a row that Calvin Klein--which also advertises underwear and jeans--was ranked No. 1 in the annual survey conducted by the New York research firm Video Storyboard Tests.
The Obsession campaign has long walked the fine line between artistic nudity and pornography. Many of the ads show models nude or semi-nude, with portions of their bodies hidden. Both male and female nudes appear in the ads--often in the same photograph. While some religious organizations have strongly objected to the ads--forcing several publications to pull them--the campaign has helped to make Calvin Klein one of the most familiar names in fashion.
The No. 2 ranking went to Revlon, for print ads that featured celebrities such as Liza Minelli and singer Debbie Gibson. The Marlboro man slipped slightly in the saddle, to the No. 3 spot.
Calvin Klein finished far ahead of the rest of the pack. "Calvin Klein is one of the few companies whose print advertising is actually more memorable than its television advertising," said Dave Vadehra, president of Video Storyboard and editor of the newsletter Commercial Break, which published the survey results. "Keep in mind, Calvin Klein spends far less on print advertising than anyone else in the top 10."
Indeed, Calvin Klein--which designs its own ads--spent a comparatively paltry $4.4 million last year on print advertising compared to second-place Revlon, which spent $49.8 million, and third-place Marlboro, which spent $88 million, according to the New York research firm LNA/Media Records.
So what does this say about the state of print advertising? "It says that sex still sells," said Candace Port, managing editor of the trade publication Inside Print. "There's a lot of talk out there about print ads getting back to more of a family style, but the titillating approach still works."
Meanwhile, fashion magnate Calvin Klein refuses to discuss his ads. He declined to comment through a company spokesman. "He feels that if he talks about our advertising it can lose its effectiveness," said Paul Wilmot, senior vice president of public relations at New York-based Calvin Klein Inc. "But I'll say one thing: Calvin is not a proponent of scientific research. He simply goes with what he likes."
And what he likes, the public apparently remembers, too. In the written survey by Video Storyboard, one Tampa, Fla., respondent explained that he liked the Obsession campaign because "it is erotic and poetic at the same time."
Calvin Klein aside, all is not poetic for print advertising these days. Although $14.3 billion was spent on the medium last year, experts say that growth has slowed in recent years. In February, the car maker Nissan stunned print advertising executives when it announced that it was going to divert the money it had planned to spend on print advertising to television commercials.
"Print is only worth using if you can segment your market," said Vadehra. "Television can give you 20 million households. To reach that many in print, you'd have a lot of waste, a lot of duplication, and you'd spend an incredible amount of money."
Of course, some advertisers, such as cigarette makers, have little choice but to use print. After all, they can't advertise on TV or radio. And perhaps one of the most unusual print advertisements introduced in 1988 was the comic image that Camel cigarettes gave its trademark camel "Old Joe," on the brand's 75th anniversary. The company says that the cartoon-like "New Joe" was introduced to improve sales in its key market, men ages 21 to 34. New Joe--often placed in swashbuckling situations, such as saving a woman from a sinking ship--resembles the television character Alf.
Some opponents of smoking have criticized the camel's clear appeal to young children, but R. J. Reynolds Tobacco insists that he is not for kids. "We took extra pains in test-marketing to make sure that he appealed to adults, not children," said Maura Payne, the company's manager of external communications.
Besides Camel, four other print advertisers broke into the top 10 last year--Revlon, Estee Lauder, DeBeer's diamonds and the fragrance Elizabeth Taylor's Passion. Vadehra said the Passion perfume prints ads are popular mostly because Elizabeth Taylor appears in them. One consumer in Schenectady, N. Y., in responding to the survey, said Elizabeth Taylor's looks alone are "worth the price of the perfume."
Not everyone faired as well as Liz. Guess Jeans, for example, which was ranked No. 5 in 1987, failed even to finish in the top 40 in the 1988 survey. A spokesman for Guess refused to comment.