THE WORLD’S TOP CLIENTS: Levi’s agencies work towards an advertising gold standard - A single marketing vision drives Levi’s roster agencies across the world. Report by Michele Martin

Roy Edmondson is an Englishman living in San Francisco who has just returned from a four-month fact-finding mission around the world. As director of global marketing for products and programmes at Levi Strauss and Co, it is his job to ensure the company’s advertising reaches a global gold standard - and he admits some countries still have a way to go. ’Well everyone’s got a few skeletons, haven’t they?’ he jokes.

Roy Edmondson is an Englishman living in San Francisco who has just

returned from a four-month fact-finding mission around the world. As

director of global marketing for products and programmes at Levi Strauss

and Co, it is his job to ensure the company’s advertising reaches a

global gold standard - and he admits some countries still have a way to

go. ’Well everyone’s got a few skeletons, haven’t they?’ he jokes.



Yet for a company that started its push towards truly cross-border

strategies only 18 months ago, Edmondson’s more serious observation that

Levi’s is ’60-70 per cent on track’ is pretty impressive. All the signs

are that major campaigns are being increasingly centralised into a few

trusted hands, with its European and Asia/Pacific agency, Bartle Bogle

Hegarty, and the North American network, FCB, emerging as the company’s

only television agencies.



The strongest advertising is also establishing greater mobility across

Levi’s markets than before, with BBH’s ’clayman’ TV commercial becoming

the first TV spot to run globally. On a smaller scale, the UK chose to

take a print campaign called ’the mission’ created by the Swedish

agency, Garbergs, to launch the Dockers brand here last year. BBH’s

’riveted’ commercial, meanwhile, is now running in India and ’mermaids’

is airing in Australia.



But for Edmondson, being ’on track’ with international advertising is

not about forcing one campaign on different markets. He stresses that

the decision to run ’clayman’ around the world was taken by individual

countries and that each market has its own local shops for tactical work

and media, with McCann-Erickson acting in several. And he likes to think

there will always be room for new creative shops, such as Brazil’s DM9

Publicidade, which also came on board a few weeks ago.



Edmondson is not alone in his vision. ’There is no way that one person

sitting in San Francisco can know the levels of market maturity, culture

and competition in different countries,’ confirms Robert Holloway, his

boss and Levi’s vice-president of global marketing. ’Our offices from

Singapore to Buenos Aires know what the plan is and are empowered to

act.



It sounds trite, but we are a really good example of thinking globally

and acting locally.’



The key to understanding Levi’s ’plan’ for worldwide advertising lies in

Holloway’s vision for the future. He evangelises a model based on

exchanging ideas rather than shoe-horning markets into a single strategy

and denies that his ultimate aim is to have one agency. ’That’s

absolutely not where it’s heading,’ he insists.



It was this flexible basic concept that Holloway, then Levi’s European

marketing director, took to top management at the end of 1995 in a bid

to establish a global marketing team. The company was already producing

strong region-wide work, but was ’missing opportunities through lack of

global co-ordination,’ according to Holloway, who was given the job of

overseeing international strategy, with overall responsibility for 12

staff.



He began by commissioning research to establish ’global visions’ for

each Levi’s brand, using extensive research both within the company and

among consumers. The audit confirmed marketing wisdom that there were

enormous similarities between general youth markets worldwide and showed

specifically that Levi’s jeans had one of the most consistent brand

images of any product, representing authentic, quality American

jeans.



The findings confirmed to Holloway that there were indeed enormous

opportunities to swap ideas between countries because of this

homogeneity. As a result, he helped set up two major initiatives to

ensure a better flow of information.



He encouraged regular visits from global marketers to individual

countries to show them ideas from around the world and facilitate their

use. He also established a comprehensive site on Levi’s intranet

covering all aspects of marketing and advertising, which countries were

encouraged to trawl.



Holloway admits that it is too early to say exactly what effect these

ideas have had. However, it seems likely that they will have least

radical influence in more mature markets. In Europe, consumers happily

enjoy the same work that runs in the UK, from Scandinavia to Eastern

Europe, while in the US, ads reflect similar values in an American

style. Both campaigns are well regarded and win awards.



Edmondson says FCB’s most recent US campaign - ’it’s wide open’, for

wide-legged jeans - ’caused the kind of stir here that the BBH work does

in Europe’. In one commercial, a man in a hospital operating theatre

regains consciousness when he realises that noise from the equipment

sounds like the song, Tainted Love. In another, two beautiful young

strangers in a lift have a wild, passionate fantasy about their lives

together. The fact that the protagonists wear Levi’s is linked to their

ability to turn ordinary events into extraordinary experiences.



It seems likely that the main challenge for Holloway and his global

marketers will be in Asia/Pacific, where the Levi’s brand is youngest,

youth culture less well established and strategies need to be more

firmly stated. Levi’s is keen to import ideas, an enthusiasm reflected

in BBH’s decision to open an office in Singapore last October.



A new style of customised, western-influenced work is filtering down to

reflect the fact that although many young Asians want a voice, they

don’t want to alienate themselves from mainstream life. One recent BBH

press campaign for Japan, called ’twins’, featured model twins wearing

denim with the line: ’Same but different.’



Edmondson and Holloway clearly hope that colleagues from all three

regions will find inspiration from the work of others, but neither has

any intention of playing Big Brother - even if that means that certain

countries will take a little longer to come up to speed.



’If a country was running a campaign that didn’t have the Levi’s vision

I could theoretically have considerable influence. But I haven’t arrived

at that point yet and it is unlikely I ever will,’ Holloway says.

Edmondson agrees. ’Of course you’ll get some blips in the core strategy,

but you bring people with you, you don’t point a stick at them.’

Hopefully, the softly-softly approach will be all that is needed to

ensure a touch of Levi’s magic spreads to all markets.