We catch up with ex-Ralph Lauren marketing boss Jonathan Bottomley, who aims to make Calvin Klein the most aspirational brand in the world.
Jonathan Bottomley joined Calvin Klein just over a year ago from Boll & Branch, the e-commerce luxury bedding company. Before that, there were stints at Ralph Lauren and Vice and a 20-year career agency-side that took in BBH, TBWA and AMV BBDO.
It’s a blend of experiences that he says makes him good at both “creating the brand equity that’s required to build long-term value for a business” and a background in digital commerce that gives him “the ability to take that equity and really drive short-term sales through digital marketing, data and consumer segmentation.”
Calvin Klein, he says, is an opportunity to bring those two things together.
His core marketing strategy at Calvin Klein has four main tentpoles, the first of which is to create entertaining campaigns that have cut through by using cultural brand ambassadors. “People spend a lot of time on their phone scrolling for entertainment and Calvin Klein can fill that gap,” he says.
The second tentpole is then using that engagement to drive full-funnel marketing: “You need to be clear about what the product message is that you want to land with that consumer. Then it’s about making sure that they have really elevated experiences across store or digital commerce, or even third-party wholesale.”
The third element is all about having a “precise” targeting strategy aimed at directing customers to a purchase – Bottomley uses a blend of paid social and social commerce – while the final piece of the puzzle is CRM: “We’re really building a CRM engine and renovating the way that we target and personalized messaging to people.”
Calvin Klein’s owner PVH (which also houses Tommy Hilfiger) has a five-point transformation plan, PVH+, for its brand that involves winning with product, winning with customer engagement, winning in the digitally-led marketplace, developing a demand- and data-driven operating model and driving efficiencies and investing in growth.
As part of this plan, a new leadership team is taking form alongside Bottomley, with ex-Zara exec Eva Serrano in place as global head of brand and Donald Kohler appointed as president for the Americas in January.
With the not-so-insignificant ask from PVH’s chief executive officer Stefan Larsson that he make Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger “the most desirable lifestyle brands in the world,” Bottomley’s brief has been: “How do we refresh the brand and reimagine it for the culture of today? How do we make sure that the timeless values and the aesthetic that people tend to have in their minds is reframed and reignited for the culture of today?” All this while “igniting” Calvin Klein’s DTC “engine.”
Calvin Klein has both first- and third-party data. “The opportunity of a brand of our scale, a brand of our prestige that has the pull that can bring people on to platforms, is to find ways of pooling those two forms of data and understanding how together we can build our own segmentation and know how to target them.”
The Calvin Klein ambassadors
We catch up with Bottomley after Calvin Klein’s fall 2023 campaign drops. It features brand ambassadors Alexa Demie and Kid Cudi, Jennie Kim, Jung Kook and Kendall Jenner in black-and-white vignettes. When selecting ambassadors, the marketing team looks for people “who will live up to the idea of confidence and sensuality and who feel empowered,” says Bottomley. Then the global marketing team works hand-in-hand with local teams to find talent who are influencing culture in Calvin Klein’s biggest markets.
Another element to Bottomley’s ambassador checklist is talent who are currently active in their fields, so working with Micheal B Jordan around the launch of Creed, with Kid Cudi who has new music coming out and Alexa Demie stars in the HBO series Euphoria.
Calvin Klein has seen success with this strategy in Korea and the wider Asia market. K-pop star Jennie Kim has over 83 million followers and Calvin Klein’s collaboration announcement with K-pop star Jungkook was one of the brand’s highest engagement social media campaigns to date, with over 3m likes.
To support the ambassadors who sit at the “top end of aspirational mainstream culture,” Bottomley believes in “the power of the influencer engine.” This means recruiting macro-influencers or content creators who are relevant in local markets and “represent the product in ways that feels more accessible.” Bottomley leverages the macro-influencers to nail the product messaging while the top-tier ambassadors land the key brand messages.
In terms of media channels, Bottomley says Instagram is Calvin Klein’s most powerful platform, but more recently it has seen success on TikTok with its page having over 1.5 million followers. “On TikTok, it is about mid-tier talent that doesn’t end up on billboards but has credibility on the platform.” For him, more important than reach is “how the users are engaging and sharing what they are saying about you.”
Elsewhere, Calvin Klein has been focused on rebuilding its “institutional influence.” This, Bottomley explains, means working with the bigger, credible publishers and getting editorial influence. (“Not paying for it, but building those relationships, spending time with the editors, working with them on bespoke initiatives, helping them understand the product but also the intent behind the campaigns.”)
Bottomley defines the shared vision of the new leadership team as wanting to make Calvin Klein “one of the most aspirational brands in the world.” He says it’s a brand that has “always stood for strong values, strong identity but has also had a really compelling image and been one of the pioneers of bringing culture and brands together.” And now there is the opportunity to connect that to the scale of the D2C platform and drive digital commerce.