Calvin Klein has a history of being provocative in its advertising. In the '90s, its many racy topless campaigns helped jumpstart the modeling careers of celebrities including Kate Moss; the brand has also been accused of glamorizing drug use and alluding to child pornography. The brand frequently courts controversy in its marketing by pushing homosexuality and sexual fluidity. Compared to such ads, the recent campaign starring supermodel Bella Hadid sharing a kiss with CGI influencer Lil Miquela might seem tame—but consumers weren’t having it on social media, prompting a response from the brand.
Shortly after the ad’s debut last week, many complained the video was “queerbaiting,” particularly because Hadid identifies as straight. Others were creeped out by the virtual influencer. In the 30-second clip, Hadid and Miquela eye one another before their kiss. A voice-over from Hadid says, “Life is about opening doors, creating new dreams you never knew could exist.”
PVH Corp.-owned Calvin Klein quickly issued an apology on Twitter, noting that the concept of the campaign is to “promote freedom of expression for a wide range of identities” and that the kiss ad is to “challenge conventional norms and stereotypes in advertising.”
“We understand and acknowledge how featuring someone who identifies as heterosexual in a same-sex kiss could be perceived as queerbaiting,” the brand said. “As a company with a longstanding tradition of advocating for LGTBQ+ rights, it was certainly not our intention to misrepresent the LGTBQ+ community.”
A Calvin Klein spokeswoman did not return a request for further comment. The commercial is part of Calvin Klein’s “I Speak My Truth in #MyCalvins” campaign. Last spring, beauty marketer Marie Gulin-Merle joined the apparel brand as chief marketing officer, a role that had been vacant for over a year. Gulin-Merle has been charged with expanding consumer engagement and growing the brand’s voice on a global level. Earlier this week, Gulin-Merle told Business of Fashion about the brand’s new marketing initiative, InCKubator, that will target specific consumer groups. Gulin-Merle was recently also named chief digital officer at PVH, a newly created position she will add to her CMO duties.
Calvin Klein has struggled with sales declines—for the fourth quarter, sales fell 2 percent to $953 million, prompted by a 7 percent decline in North America and decreases in the jeans business. In January, the brand announced a restructuring to address challenges.