PERSPECTIVE: Levi’s advertising takes radical turn but just where to?

There’s a curious discrepancy between many commercials and the PR hype that precedes them. Gems reach our office an hour after the agreed deadline in unassuming brown envelopes which contain a review tape, a hastily cobbled-together fax detailing who created, directed and paid for the commercial and not much else. Turkeys get the full PR teaser treatment, followed by acres of feverish press releases sent in triplicate to every reporter in the office.

There’s a curious discrepancy between many commercials and the PR

hype that precedes them. Gems reach our office an hour after the agreed

deadline in unassuming brown envelopes which contain a review tape, a

hastily cobbled-together fax detailing who created, directed and paid

for the commercial and not much else. Turkeys get the full PR teaser

treatment, followed by acres of feverish press releases sent in

triplicate to every reporter in the office.



That’s why, when I caught sight of a lavishly designed box bearing a

Levi’s logo and the line ’I want everything’ on my desk, and heard about

our fearless reporter’s visit to the overblown press launch (see this

week’s Diary) I instantly knew the box would contain much flim-flam that

should be ignored at all costs. However, there was one sentence that

sums up what’s happened: ’Gone is the award-winning campaign that gained

much consumer affection and which changed the face of jeans advertising

over the last decade.’



The three TV ads, one cinema spot and six print executions, mark a

radical departure for Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Levi’s agency since 1985

The antithesis of Levi’s former aspirational, glossy commercials, they

dispense with the hummable tune and the heady sex appeal of the previous

work.



The TV executions feature a hamster that dies of boredom when its wheel

breaks, a child trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and finally

forcing it in with a hammer, a typical 1950s American salesman

introducing the viewer to the prosaic accoutrements of his life which,

he nonchalantly explains, include ’my six wives’. The cinema spot shows

a young man in a shopping mall, back-view only, wearing a Levi’s sweat

top and nothing else.



The message, as used to such effect in Guinness’s ’black and white’ ads,

is ’things are not what they seem’, with the ads celebrating originality

in the broadest sense. Trouble is, you only pick this up when the Levi’s

logo (or, for that matter, any other advertiser’s logo you care to

substitute) appears at the end.



You’ll have guessed by now that these ads didn’t go down too well among

the Campaign staff - most of whom, it has to be admitted, grew up

enjoying, and extending their credit card limits, to the background of

BBH’s earlier Levi’s ads. Their reaction was a mystified ’huh?’ rather

than a gratified ’wow!’.



But our nostalgia misses the point of Levi’s strategy change. Consider

the huge and well-documented problems facing the company - falling denim

sales, cut-price competition from supermarkets, the growth of designer

own-label brands rendering mass-market labels less hip - and you soon

realise that Levi’s had no option but to change radically how people

perceive its brand. But is this necessarily the right change?



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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).