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
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
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
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.