A vintage car pulls up at a gas station, complete with tumbleweed
and freaks sipping coffee in the nearby diner. The friends spill out on
to the forecourt, eager to be free of their confined space, and begin to
stretch tired muscles.
As they do so, something strange happens. It starts with a swivelling
wrist and escalates to all five passengers contorting and twisting to a
thumping soundtrack. Heads and torsos rotate and limbs fly into strange
positions before they all pile back in the car and zoom off into the
This is no horror movie - it's the latest ad for Levi's Engineered
Jeans, shot by Frank Budgen through Gorgeous Films and created by Bartle
Bogle Hegarty. The campaign, which runs across TV, cinema, print,
outdoor and digital, represents the company's latest bid to wrestle back
its share of the denim clothing market and, according to the marketing
manager for Northern Europe, Rachel Johnson, 'make the brand cool
again'. The £5 million spend is the most Levi Strauss has poured
into a UK campaign.
While BBH has consistently produced highly creative work for Levi's
since it began handling the account in 1982, it has changed strategy
three times since the long-running 501 campaign was dumped in 1998.
Johnson is quick to affirm her devotion to BBH's work, however. She says
that the strategy to promote the entire Levi's brand by backing only the
Engineered Jeans relies heavily on BBH's intimate knowledge of the
There was less understanding from Levi's US marketing department, which
sacked its long-term agency Foote Cone & Belding from the $90
million account in favour of TBWA/Chiat/Day as Levi's sought an
At the time, the company stressed there was nothing wrong with the ads,
several of which had won awards, but said the long-term health of the
brand needed attention. Since then, viral marketing, aimed at
infiltrating the youth market, has been a core strategy. It's this which
Johnson is keen to emulate.
'Twisted' is a continuation of the campaign, that broke early last year,
and marks the company's commitment to its Levi's Engineered Jeans
The 'Jeremy Clarkson' effect was blamed for a slump in denim sales in
the late 90s, which led to the demise of the 501 campaign.
It was replaced with a generic branding campaign, which was rapidly
dropped in favour of the Flat Eric work for the Sta-Prest label. Despite
the popularity of the Flat Eric work, Sta-Prest was withdrawn and the
company began to put its marketing muscle behind Engineered Jeans.
In fact, Levi's suffered from the popularity of its early 501
advertising in the long run. The tales of how jeans sales soared by 800
per cent after Nick Kamen took off his 501s in 1984's 'launderette' ad
are now part of advertising folklore.
But while the 13 ads in the series raised the brand's profile, created
several hit records for classic artists and cemented the company's
relationship with its agencies, it also made the jeans so popular that
they became commonplace.
Johnson admits Levi's is fighting some tough competition from younger,
more youth-oriented brands - the company has seen a 15 per cent slump
from its 90s heyday, when it had 30 per cent of the global demin market.
But she claims the 'twisted to fit' campaign is the perfect way to
combine the jeans' heritage with innovation.
'We have a responsibility to drive innovation within the demin market,
and we did not move quickly enough when it really mattered,' Johnson
'The first two campaigns, launched last February with a second tranche
in September 2000, focused on the 'twisted to fit' jeans and were about
establishing awareness. With the new work, we want to get across the
benefit of the product,' she adds.
She admits Levi's has lost out to quick-thinking and much smaller rivals
such as Diesel and Evisu, which have positioned themselves as cult
brands within its target youth market. 'Before, Levi's wasn't giving
them anything new, and we needed to find a focus which would demonstrate
style and comfort,' Johnson stresses.
Diesel, which has just appointed the Dutch agency Kessels Kramer to
continue its ten-year history of iconic ads, is seen as a hotter choice,
along with the Japanese brand Evisu. Other up-market brands eating away
at Levi's territory include Earl Jean and Denime. The brand is also
being pinched from below, with own-label demin sales from the likes of
The launch of the latest Levi's campaign coincides with the relaunch of
Falmer by CDP.
The company went into receivership in 1998, and was bought by the
discount retailer Matalan last year. The campaign echoes Levi's press
work, relying on the physiques of the models in the ads to showcase the
Despite all the competition, Johnson shrugs off claims that focusing on
the Engineered Jeans range represents a short-term fix to a long-term
problem: ' It's early days in a revival of the whole sector, and this is
not a quick fashion trend.'
Johnson rejects claims that the product is too radical. The bias-cut
jeans are definitely different, but she says consumers are hungry for
change. 'When 501s appeared, they too were considered pretty challenging
for consumers - they were flat-fronted, had button-flies and looked
better the more you wore them,' she argues.
However, traditional jeans remain a core offering of Levi's, unlike the
Sta-Prest range. It's a harsh indictment of the brand when the character
used in the ads becomes an icon rather than the product itself.
'Twisted' was written by BBH's Mark Hunter and art directed by Tony
'It's a good mix of special effects combined with the solid but quirky
twisted theme,' BBH's creative director, Russell Ramsey, says.