Neil Kraft 78 PH knows that a little edge can go a long way. His attention-grabbing advertising campaigns from the early ‘90s helped transform the face of fashion advertising, with major clothing brands – including Barney’s, Esprit and Calvin Klein – owing much of their success to his groundbreaking marketing tactics.
“I just did what I thought would get a reaction from the public,” Kraft explained to a RISD audience in late April, visiting campus as part of the Beyond RISD alumni lecture series. “I thought that would get us the attention we wanted.”
Kraft's intuition is right on the money. While working as the worldwide image director for Esprit de Corps, he launched an advertising campaign that published slogans such as: “Keep a woman’s right to chose, unless George Bush is free to babysit.” The politically charged marketing blitz galvanized the public to send up to 30,000 letters a month to the apparel company’s headquarters. It also drove shoppers to the stores.
“If the board of directors knew what we were doing, they probably would have stopped us,” Kraft notes. “But the campaign was extremely successful. Clothing sales hit record numbers.”
Kraft soon moved on to take the position of Senior Vice President of Advertising and Creative Services at Calvin Klein. Again, he took a calculated risk by launching a sexy campaign shot in entirely back and white film – showing young models wearing the apparel company’s underwear, and not much else.
“At that time, few people were willing to take a risk,” Kraft notes. “But luckily for us, it ended up paying off. Our campaigns changed the world of advertising.”
Many of the world's most iconic supermodels – including Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Kate Moss – skyrocketed to international fame after posing for Calvin Klein ads. “I remember when Calvin and I first saw the photos of Kate. We absolutely flipped, so we decided to use her in the campaign,” Kraft says. “She ended up being a pretty big deal.”
In 2000 the photographer-turned-art-director founded KraftWorks, a strategic advertising firm in New York City that’s responsible for some today’s most recognizable marketing campaigns. Popular country music star Taylor Swift recently recruited the branding guru to direct a $2-million commercial promoting her newest fragrance. The dreamy ad shows the starlet skipping through a fantasy woodland and is now airing on major cable channels.
“Sometimes I can’t believe that I work with celebrities on a daily basis,” Kraft says. “But they’re just people who ask me to help develop their vision.”
Kraft also has a longstanding relationship with Aldo, a worldwide shoe and accessory chain. After modernizing the company’s logo, he began work on a broadcasting campaign for an annual partnership with YouthAIDS, a nonprofit that brings global awareness to the HIV pandemic. Chart-topping recording artists such as Christina Aguilera, Avril Lavigne and Ludacris signed on help promote the philanthropic project.
“It was an amazing experience,” notes Kraft. “When you can work for a cause you believe in and make it work for commerce, that’s a pretty special project.”
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