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Ad Pullback Unlikely to Hurt Sales at Calvin Klein : Retailing: Company benefits from the controversy over its campaign featuring scantily clad teen-agers, analysts say.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Calvin Klein’s decision Monday to pull advertising criticized as “kiddie porn” isn’t likely to hurt sales of a brand known for pushing the borders of sex in advertising.

In fact, some retailing consultants have declared Calvin Klein a big winner as a result of the controversy over a series of ads featuring scantily clad teen-age models in provocative poses.

“Once again Klein has scored a grand slam home run,” said Alan Millstein, editor and publisher of the Fashion Network Report in New York. “He’s gotten millions of dollars of free publicity from this. It is like a B-12 shot for his company.”

The ads centered around young people in sexually suggestive positions and drew outrage from child welfare authorities, social commentators and the Catholic League. The conservative American Family Assn. had called for a boycott of stores selling the jeans.

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One print ad showed a young woman with her skirt pulled up and her legs apart, exposing her underwear. A TV spot showed a young man with his shirt off, talking to an off-screen male director who says, “Nice body. Do you work out?”

In announcing the end of the campaign, Calvin Klein said the company was “taken aback” by the negative reaction.

The company said the ads are about the “spirit, independence and inner worth of today’s young people.” The company said the ads were also intended to convey “the idea that glamour is an inner quality that can be found in regular people.”

Calvin Klein decided to withdraw the ads because their “message has been misunderstood by some.”

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This is the first time Calvin Klein has ended an advertising campaign due to controversy. In 1980, some local television stations refused to air a spot in which a teen-age Brooke Shields cooed, “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.”

In 1991, a 116-page advertising supplement in Vanity Fair came under fire for racy photographs described as a jumble of naked bodies, black leather jackets and tattoos. More recently, Calvin Klein has come under fire for featuring waif model Kate Moss in another campaign, which critics said glamorized extreme thinness.

But marketers, including practitioners of so-called shock advertising, said the current series of ads had crossed the line.

“These ads look like those sleazy, bootleg kiddie porn videos the feds confiscate,” said Peter Fressola, a spokesman for Benetton, an Italian retailer that has generated controversy with ads featuring dying AIDS patients and condoms.

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“We’re always trying to draw attention not only to ourselves but to a social issue,” Fressola said. “I don’t think Calvin Klein has any socially redeeming benefit in mind. He is holding up youthful eroticism to gain attention.”

A Calvin Klein spokesman said the current series of TV ads aired on MTV and on local stations in 10 to 15 markets. He said some of the local stations refused to air some of the spots and accepted others, though he couldn’t identify which were rejected.

At least one retailer, Minneapolis-based Dayton Hudson Corp., turned down an opportunity to have the name of its stores, which include Dayton’s, Hudson’s and Marshall Fields, appear in the Calvin Klein ads.

“They were just too challenging for us, too much of a lightning rod,” said Mike Hyter, a senior vice president at Dayton Hudson. He commended Calvin Klein for pulling the ads.

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“It was the right decision,” Hyter said.

Retail consultant Millstein said the timing for ending the campaign is convenient because the back-to-school shopping season is virtually over. “There’s no virtue in his announcing the campaign is over,” Millstein said. “It’s like announcing you’re not running for office the day after the election.” He said that 40% of jeans sales are made in two months, August and December.

Retail consultants viewed the campaign as an effort to invigorate Calvin Klein’s jeans business, which they say has been languid since the early 1990s. The company, in the midst of a restructuring, got out of manufacturing jeans last year and sold the license to a partnership headed by Rio Jeans. Calvin Klein retained control of advertising and promotion.

Millstein said sales of Calvin Klein jeans come to about $100 million a year, compared to about $600 million for Guess? A Calvin Klein spokesman said the company’s jeans business “has been very strong” but would not provide figures.

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