CAMPAIGN-I: SPOTLIGHT ON: LEVI'S - Is Levi's swapping innovation for mass appeal on the web? In the wake of Lateral, Good Technology has a hard act to follow, Alasdair Reid says

Last week, following a four-way pitch involving Blueberry Net, Oyster and Red Sky Interactive, Good Technology won the account from the long- term incumbent, Lateral.

Last week, following a four-way pitch involving Blueberry Net, Oyster and Red Sky Interactive, Good Technology won the account from the long- term incumbent, Lateral.

Lateral's ground-breaking work will not be forgotten - Levi's has been one of the most innovative and sophisticated marketing presences on the web. The brief was to be innovative and challenging, pushing the boundaries of what was possible within the medium and that manifested itself not just within the sites but also in the associated online advertising and marketing activities.

The best overall example of that was the Flat Eric phenomenon. This was actually launched in an e-mail initially sent out to a couple of hundred 'opinion formers', carrying a ten-second animated teaser version of the soon-to-break 'Flat Eric' campaign for Sta-Prest. It worked brilliantly, reaching an estimated 15 million people and creating a real buzz before the campaign launched.

Flat Eric was responsible for another first - the Overt, which was invented by Lateral. This was, in effect, an anarchic version of the banner ad format, featuring an animated Flat Eric graphic that was able to move around over the content of host sites.

If you managed to click on the moving targets you hyperlinked to the Flat Eric site. The click-through was impressive.

Last, but not least, Lateral gave Levi's the Para-Site. Click through from a host site to a piece of Levi's I-Candy (let's also remember that I-Candy was another Lateral innovation used early on by Levi's) and when you return to the host site, you find that it has been over-run by Levi's, with branding icons plastered all over it.

But recent speculation surrounding Levi's is that the brand wants a change in direction. There's the whole question of e-commerce for starters, although Levi's policy towards that particular issue remains ambiguous at best. On arriving as Levi's new president and chief executive last year, Philip Marineau took eight days to decide that the company's nascent online retail operation in the US had to be axed.

Martineau decided that there was no real substitute for going into the store and actually trying the product on - so with that in mind, Levi's didn't want to alienate its real world retail partners. It is now pursuing a middle course, linking up with a couple of online retail partners in the US.

But there's also been speculation that Levi's wants a change of creative direction. Although the online campaign for Levi's engineered jeans has won universal applause, Lateral's microsite for the brand experimented with a topsy-turvy architecture which annoyed many users. Subsequently, the work was withdrawn.

Many observers believe it confirmed Levi's new instincts to be less quirky.

As one source puts it: 'If you innovate, you have to take risks and sometimes it goes awry. Lots of people are experimenting with clever, funky, leading-edge, whizzy stuff. It's not unique any more and in some quarters it's seen as a bit passe. I think it's clear that Levi's wants to develop a more considered image now.'

Is it true? Perhaps. Anne Bonew, the direct-to-consumer marketing manager for Levi's, says that the role of the website is changing.

'You have to see this in the context of the web. When we launched in 1995 there was a very small audience compared with what we have now,' she explains. 'The objective was obviously to add value to communications in general, but there was much more of a niche aspect to it and you could have far crazier stuff. As the web has become more mainstream, we have to be more careful about giving consumers what they want and work to making the information more straightforward.'

But she rejects any notion that Levi's will be less innovative in its thinking in the future. 'Innovation is what we are known for in terms of brand values and it has always been a concern for us to innovate on the internet. But there really is no point in doing wonderful, technical things if they have no relevance or emotional benefit when it comes to brand communications. There are two totally different but complementary aspects of our activity here - online campaigns and websites. I don't believe we will lose our leadership in innovation. In fact, I think we are better placed than we have been.'

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