LEVI’S: IT’S ALL IMAGE

Byline: Lisa Lockwood

NEW YORK — Levi Strauss & Co., which spent a mighty $75 million advertising its various jeans lines last year, is doing an about-face creatively for fall.
After years of doing product-driven ad campaigns for such lines as 501, Red Tab and Wide Leg jeans, the company will switch to an image campaign in the U.S., beginning with the back-to-school season.
Also, the new campaign will be targeted to a younger audience.
“Basically we’re shifting our ad strategy from what I’ll call ‘product-focused’ 501 jeans and Wide Leg jeans to an approach where the Levi’s brand is the hero,” said Mark Hogan, director of consumer marketing at Levi’s.
“What it does is celebrate the values of the Levi’s brand. The news will be the Levi’s brand, rather than a specific product.”
And what values will be celebrated?
“It’s premature to get into concepts,” said Hogan, noting the campaign is currently being developed and will be launched in August.
For the past seven years, Levi’s has taken a product approach to its jeans advertising, while its edgy European ads created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty in London have been more image-driven, offbeat and provocative.
That’s because in Europe, Levi’s are marketed and perceived as premium branded products, rather than simply commodity denim. Their American heritage is often the focus of the European ads and allows Levi’s to project images that range from rebellious and edgy to the tough cowboy.
“Jeans in Europe are still a symbol of youth,” said Martin Ripon, advertising manager at Levi’s Europe in Brussels. “In America, everyone wears them, and it’s a harder marketing job to make them special.”
According to Hogan, it not like the product ads weren’t successful. In fact, Levi’s has won awards for its jeans campaigns. “But it was time to move on,” said Hogan.
“The essence of this is we’re continuing to build our number one asset, which is the brand. Rather than the point of entry being Levi’s Wide-Leg jeans, for example, we’re saying, ‘Come to Levi’s, come into the brand and see what we have,” said Hogan.
Will the image campaign change each season, or will it be an ongoing theme?
“I think it’ll be obvious that there’s a new advertising campaign, and it will continue to reinforce values consumers have for the brand. It will evolve over time.”
The new ads are being developed by Levi’s longtime ad agency, Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, and the agency’s creative director, Chuck McBride, who’s been in charge of previous campaigns. Last month, Foote, Cone & Belding hired Peter R.V. Martin as executive vice president, worldwide account director for the Levi’s business. He had been with Ogilvy & Mather.
Hogan acknowledged that the jeans market has become “increasingly competitive.” The last year has seen increased spending by designer jeans companies such as CK Calvin Klein and Guess, and new entrants into the marketplace, such as Polo Jeans and Tommy Jeans.
Hogan added that Levi’s is looking beyond TV for its media buy this fall. “We’re exploring all options.” He said the company has done outdoor advertising in the past in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and that’s a possibility. It’s also re-evaluating its print buy.

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