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Brand X: This Is War

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Brand: Nautica Jeans
Agency: Toth Brand Imaging (NY)
Creative director: Mike Toth

Calvin Klein -- who's dominated outdoor ad space since last summer with his billboards featuring sexy young pop-cultural icons -- is now faced with an insurgent army: the buzz-cut, dog-tag-wearing male models of the Nautica Jeans military-fetishistic "N-Company" campaign. Grinning out from suddenly omnipresent bus ads and towering over the Midtown Tunnel, the boys have arrived in town complete with back story. Nauticajeans.com reveals that they're supposed enrollees in a make-believe military academy, and the elaborate site fills out the fantasy with more pictures of the hunky recruits and supposed e-mail messages from one of the boys (a strategy reminiscent of the cK one e-mail campaign). It might seem like an odd miscalculation for a youth-oriented fashion label to embrace images of institutional order and conformity as enlistment in the U.S. armed forces continues to drop. But what Nautica's doing is engaging in counterprogramming. Since Calvin's got a lock on all the A-list rowdies, from Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes to Korn's David Silveria, Nautica had to look elsewhere for its own brand-building rebels. The strapping, prideful young men in this campaign don't exactly look like they're fighting for our freedom. N-Company looks more like reform school. It's Nautica's handsome nobodies vs. Calvin's rich and famous toughs -- and everybody's more than ready to rumble.


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