Michael Fitzpatrick looks at what BBH will change to sell jeans to the
McCann-Erickson must have known something was up when Bartle Bogle
Hegarty’s celebrated Levi’s spot, ‘clayman’, generated massive interest
when it ran in Japan last year.
Sure enough, when the account came up for review it was BBH that netted
Levi’s Japanese business in all its pounds 10 million glory (Campaign,
last week). The account had been handled by McCanns for the past 15
As Mark Elliot, Levi Strauss London’s communications manager, put it:
‘Levi’s was impressed by the work BBH has done throughout Europe. That’s
what swung it. Its creative approach can work in other countries like
Eastern Europe. Japan is just another challenge.’
Considering the fractured nature of the Japanese jeans market, that
challenge is real. Perhaps it will be easier with the sea-change
affecting Japanese youth, which now shuns smart designer-brand suits in
favour of something grungier. The adolescents who ironed a crease in
their scotchguarded-blue jeans are experiencing their first recession
and they are adopting a look to go with it.
Traditionally, jeans have been marketed conservatively in Japan. McCanns
was no different, using hackneyed images such as James Dean to appeal to
young, male jeans wearers. Meanwhile, Levi’s competitor, Edwin, relied
on an ethereal disembodied pair of animated jeans, and wholesome
personalities to plug its merchandise.
Given such a tame domestic approach, the question is will BBH be
creating dedicated work or extending its universal executions? Chida
Achara, who heads the Levi’s account at BBH, refused to be drawn but
admited a different approach is needed for Japan: ‘The market is more
fashion orientated than in the US or Europe. Jeans are seen more as a
commodity and there’s more investment in innovation. Strategies tend to
be tactical with less brand building in the classic sense. It’s more
about churning out new products.’
That means more emphasis on items such as the soft jean - produced from
man-made fibres. There is also less per capita consumption of jeans in a
country where the corporate wrinkle-free shirt and slacks rule supreme.
Today’s rebels, tomorrow’s salary men, are the biggest consumers - hence
the James Dean treatments. ‘Hopefully we can change that,’ Achara says.
It will be interesting to see how BBH adapts to the distinctive Japanese
way of selling, but with the success of ‘clayman’ it’s clear that ads
with foreign character appeal. But I’m afraid that doesn’t mean you,