Sunday, July 08, 2007

Text Message in a Bottle: Calvin Klein’s New Perfume Tries to Connect to Today’s Generation

The invitation for the Philippine launch of the new fragrance of Calvin Klein, the CK In2U, came in a DVD disc that has to be played to be able to know the details. The disc contained a MTV-ish series of images, mostly ordinary streets scenes in which the words In2U appear mostly unobtrusively. It was obvious that Calvin Klein is trying to be edgy to attract the younger set for this new perfume. I thought this one targets the partying crowd. At the hip club Embassy, in trendy The Fort, the venue of the launch, the advertising video was being played. Two models, a young man and a woman, were chatting, and their exchanges got steamy. They decided to meet. On the streets and in corners, they ran, frolicked and unleashed their passion.
Despite its glossiness, the ad basically referred to the generation that chats, blogs and uses the social networking sites, those whose lives are connected with the computer, the Internet and the mobile phones. One can say this is for geeks. Is Calvin Klein making a perfume for nerds? The company prefers and uses the term technosexuals, which it trademarked last year and hopes to become a buzzword just like metrosexual—referring to heterosexual men who are stylish and know how to groom—has. Another term the company uses is Millenials, the twenty-somethings living the 2000s.
“CK In2U speaks the language of a generation connected by technology—the aptly named technosexuals,” says Lori Singer, vice president of global marketing of Calvin Klein Fragrances, in its press releases. “They are the first generation to be defined more by their means of communication rather than fashion or music. Constantly at play on the phone or Web, they communicate with a shortened language allowing for a quicker, more effortless way to stay connected.”
The company press release further defines technosexuals, which it estimates to be about 72 million in number, as the ones “immersed in a lifestyle of social technology, staying connected with each other via MySpace and text messaging,” whose “means of communication is so different, so is the way that they connect with each other, whether romantically or for a casual hook-up,” succinctly meaning that “this generation of lovers and friends are meeting and courting each other via technology.”
“For the Millennials it is all about living in the now, coupled with a desire to keep their options open,” Singer further states, mentioning that technology has created a kind of freedom “to connect to anyone, anywhere in the world,” thus creating “a new kind of sexual revolution.”
“With our new fragrance, CK In2U, we aim to capture that moment,” she says. “Calvin Klein fragrances have always been about conveying part of the cultural zeitgeist.”
Calvin Klein incorporates elements of contemporary culture into its packaging design. The perfume is placed in a box with an iridescent metallic sheen, much like the look of the computer’s metal parts. The bottle itself, designed by Stephen Burks, is glass in the shape of a rocket silo with a mantle of white plastic, the same material as iPods. Etched is IN2U, text-messaging shorthand for “into you,” an urgent expression of sexual desire.
The marketing has a hip ad campaign that features edgy young actor Kevin Zegers and model of the moment Freja Beha Erichsen, and its own online community at
More important is what’s inside the bottle, the scent that aims to capture the generation which has no brand loyalty and is said to be characterized by spontaneity, variety and fast-paced-ness; and that aspires to be definitive of that generation.
For CK In2U, Calvin Klein veered away from the unisex fragrance it successfully initiated and promoted, and launched for-men and for-women fragrances in tandem.
CK In2U for Him is fresh, woody and Oriental with top notes of lemon gin fizz, pomelo leaves and frosted tangelo; heart notes of cocoa, pimento and shiso leaves; and base notes of cool musk, white cedar and ultra-vetiver.
A blog reviewing fragrances has this to say: “As advertised, it has a nice spicy-fizzy opening with lots of citrus and pepper. The food-y notes in the heart are rather subdued (the chocolate is noticeable without being overdone) but add some interest to the proceedings. I was expecting something ultra-earthy from the ultra-vetiver, but it is more watery-fresh than earthy. The dry down is the largely the same clean musk you find in CK One, rendered cleaner, soapier and warmer in the CK In2U, and accented with a touch of vetiver and some pale woods.”
On the other hand, the women’s scent is warm and sweet with pink grapefruit fizz, Sicilian bergamot and red currant leaves as top notes; sugar orchid and white cactus as heart; and neon amber, vanilla soufflé and red cedar as base.
The same blogger-reviewer is leery on this fragrance: “The progression is always the same. Start with some achingly sweet fruits, throw in a dash of bright citrus (screechingly high pitched, in this case), add a blur of unrecognizable flowers in the heart, finish it off with some pale musky, woody stuff, more clean than not, and a big dollop of vanilla. In this case, the musky stuff is also reminiscent of CK One, but it is harder to pick out until the fragrance calms [down]. Once it does, CK In2U [for] Her is mostly lightly toasted vanilla sugar and musk.”
It is an enticing and sweet concoction, but whether Calvin Klein becomes successful in its ambition is something that remains to be seen. Calvin Klein is trying to replicate its success with CK One, launched in the mid-nineties and embraced by the Gen-Xers. During that time, CK One has annual sales of around $90 million. The following years Calvin Klein launched spin-offs like CK Be and CK One Remix but were not as warmly received. CK In2U can be considered a sequel but has its own different scent.
The new fragrance was launched on April 1, 2007, in the United States, and prior to that The New York Times published an article by Eric Wilson about the perfume and its attempt to capture and sum up today’s generation.
“Calvin Klein, now without its namesake designer, hopes to rejuvenate a fragrance embodying the essence of hip 20-somethings — even at the risk that such a notion is as outdated as a Prince song about partying like it’s 1999,” the article says.
CK In2U and the article created a buzz among the target market. After the launch, I went online to survey what’s being said about CK In2U and its marketing strategy, and discovered many reactions to the perfume even before it hits the market. CK In2U may be one of the most commented upon perfumes by bloggers. Most reacted to the ad campaign and most of the reactions are of suspicion. The target generation proves to be un-swayed., a Manhattan media news and gossip Web site, has a piece on the perfume with a comment as title: “Bloggers Don’t Want to Smell of Blog.”
But what is the smell of blog? This attempt of Calvin Klein to capture the blogging generation into a scent can be mind-boggling to many.
A blogger named Andrew, writing in the blogger group Web site “Notes from the Digital Frontier” (, wrote, “This fragrance is targeted for those who are ‘turned on’ by blogging. Here’s my question: why would anyone want to douse themselves in some high-dollar scent before sitting in front of a computer screen to chat with friends on instant messenger?”
Other commented on the term technosexuals. The 5 Blogs Before Lunch site ( has a piece with this comment-title: “Calvin Klein's Technosexuals: Just Another Term For The Tech-Reliant Generation Y, and a Made-Up Target Audience Definition for Its In2U Fragrance,” and goes on to say, “Is it possible to trademark a generational handle? Gen Y, Gen X and Millenials are all in the public domain, but Calvin Klein had the gall—or foresight—to trademark the buzzword technosexuals last year.”
Blogger Andrew would rather veer away from the term: “I would rather meet with people in person, forget all the high-tech gadgets, and enjoy the time spent with them playing a board game or socializing. By my own self-analysis I don’t fall under the technosexual label. I am better described as a traditional geek who is content to participate in a debate over which OS is better. And while I’m at it, I wouldn’t mind watching some of those witty ‘I’m a Mac. I’m a PC’ ads and counting down the days until the release of the iPhone.”
The blogger of “Almost Girl: Where Plato and Prada Meet” ( comments, “Please, You Can’t Titillate Gen-Y and You Certainly Can’t Bottle It” and is leery on the marketing ploy: “Gen-Xers will buy anything. The generation that made an art form out of copping out is uniformly the easiest generation to co-opt. CK One was a product of its time and surely one of the greatest marketing triumphs perfume has ever seen. But beware to the marketer that tries to strike twice. Welcome to 2007’s greatest marketing disaster.”
On the other hand, Angela Thomas, who says her “research interests include digital cultures, new media literacies, multimodal semiotics and digital narratives,” writes in her blog (, “I think CK’s In2U hits some of the mark but ummmm its not really very mysterious, is it? But then again, in an age where its commonplace to reveal your innermost secrets on your blog, perhaps the marketing is spot on?”
A blog reviewing fragrances overall describes and assesses the reactions: “The reaction of the target market itself has been less than cordial. In fact, the backlash against the whole project was vocal even before the scents launched, based largely on the advertising copy (‘She likes how he blogs, her texts turn him on. It’s intense. For right now.’) Of course, back when CK One launched, there weren't the same kinds of public forums (blogs, MySpace, what have you) in which to protest being ‘marketed down to’, so it is hard to know if CK In2U is really getting a worse reception or if there are simply more (and easier) ways to register disgust. Regardless, CK In2U has succeeded in capturing plenty of attention, and in today's crowded fragrance market, that would seem to be half the battle.”
Calvin Klein is bold in trying to sum up the generation and the times in one fragrant concoction, and for this ambition backlash can be expected. Another aim, although also ambitious, is more “sober”: to be a cultural icon by identifying with the lifestyle that is intimately affected by technology and the culture that emerges from it.
I spent the night reading snippets of numerous blogs commenting on the product, at least its marketing strategy, in between chatting and flirting. When the day dawned, I had to find out what it really smells. After all the marketing and the words, it boils down to smelling it. I opened the shiny box and cradled the bottle, which reminded me of a milk bottle or that of an Old Spice coilogne. I let sprays of CK In2U for Him float in the air and land on my arms. It was fresh. It was sweet. I sniffed my arms. It was likable. It invigorates as well as lulls you. It was pleasant, generally. Now, it will take time and habit to conspire to make a memory, a memory of a long nights with a laptop chatting with friends and strangers; flirting with friends and strangers; surfing the net and learning new things; looking through this flickering window that enables you to connect to and access unquantifiable things; maybe getting comfort from faraway loved ones, getting stimulation from new acquaintances, or getting excited by discussions with people you haven’t seen. If the time is ripe, a whiff of CK In2U will conjure up these feelings and images of the nights that end with bursts of sunlight and a sweet scent. Memory collectively often can define the times and perhaps a generation, and a scent can trigger a memory.

Available in August 2007, CK In2U for Him comes in 150 ml, 100 ml and 50 ml eau de toilette bottles; 100 ml after-shave; 150 ml after-shave gel; 200 ml hair and body wash; and 27 ml deodorant stick. CK In2U for Her comes in 150 ml, 100 ml and 50 ml eau de toilette bottles; 200 ml skin moisturizer; 200 ml body wash; and 150 ml deodorant spray.

Published in The Daily Tribune, July 10, 2007.

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