Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What would you do in your Calvins?

Calvin Klein’s new ad campaign takes celebrity endorsement to a whole new level. Shot by renowned photographer Tyrone Lebon, the newly released spring 2016 campaign features the likes of Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Fetty Wrap, FKA Twigs and Abbey Lee Kershaw, to name but a few - all hugely successful (and might I add beautiful) individuals from the art, music and fashion industries. At the heart of the #mycalvins campaign is each celebrity detailing what they would do in their Calvins (filling in the blank: “I ______ in #mycalvins”) and believe it or not it turns out there’s a whole host of stuff you can do. Bieber flaunts, Fetty Wrap makes money, Kendall Jenner stands tall and Abbey Lee Kershaw hypnotizes, but I guess the question is, what would you do in your Calvins? 

Increasingly we are seeing celebrities appear in adverts and campaigns throughout the world. In fact, nowadays, rarely do you see an advert without one celebrity figure or another. This is largely due to the fact that brands are recognising the persuasive (albeit slightly manipulative) impact celebrities can have on consumer engagement and their subsequent intention to purchase a particular product. And Calvin Klein is no exception - cleverly combining both the high-status admirer altercast and physically attractive-admirer altercast in this enticing campaign (Pratkanis, 2007).

First and foremost, celebrities are a valuable tool in advertising due to their perceived high-status. Lefkowitz, Blake and Mouton (1955) have demonstrated the powerful influence status can have on getting people to do (or not do) certain things. For instance, they found that people were more likely to violate a traffic signal had someone perceived to be of high-status (versus low-status) previously done so. The persuasive technique at use here is the high-status admirer altercast – a technique likewise found in Calvin Klein’s spring 2016 campaign, which features endless high-status(*) celebrities. Celebrities are often admired by us… mere mortals… for their success, attractiveness and high status in society. As a result, celebrities are hired to feature in ads since they allow brands to promote their products as must-have items, creating a ‘you can be like me if you have this product’ mentality. Since we often desire to be like and identify with these figures, this acts to increase the likelihood we will subsequently purchase the product. 

*Subject to interpretation.

Not only this, but you’ve probably noticed that celebrities used in ads are all typically very attractive. Well, this is yet another technique used by brands to lure you into purchasing their product. Calvin Klein and all. In line with the physically attractive-admirer altercast, Chaiken (1979) had physically attractive and unattractive males and females deliver a persuasive message to passer-by undergraduates. Undergraduates indicated the extent to which they agreed with the overall position of the message (that “the university should stop serving meat at breakfast and lunch at all dining commons”) and were later asked to sign a petition demanding for this action to take place (Chaiken, 1979, p. 1390). 

The results showed that attractive communicators were significantly more persuasive on both the verbal and behavioural measure, i.e. a greater number of targets both agreed and signed the petition when the communicator was attractive (versus unattractive) (see Table 1 above). These results indicate that attractiveness seems to likewise enhance the influence a message has on its audience, something Calvin Klein - although not alone - has wasted no time in exploiting. It seems Calvin knows a thing or two about the psychology behind persuasion. 

Still, even though I know I’m not going to miraculously turn into Kendall Jenner (sad, sad times), that doesn’t stop me wanting my very own Calvins. Good job, Calvin Klein. Good job. 


Chaiken, S. (1979). Communicator physical attractiveness and persuasion. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1387-1397.

Lefkowitz, M., Blake, R. R., & Mouton, J. S. (1955). Status factors in pedestrian violation of traffic signals. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 51, 704-706.

Pratkanis, A. R. (2007). Social influence analysis: An index of tactics. In A. R. Pratkanis (Ed.) The science of social influence: Advances and future progress (pp.17-83). New York: Psychology Press. 

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