CLOSE-UP: GLOBAL BRIEF; Levi’s tackles Japan with BBH

Michael Fitzpatrick looks at what BBH will change to sell jeans to the Japanese

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,

Jimmy Dean.