CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/LEVI'S - A new twist in Levi's quest to win back consumers. Will Levi's latest ad give the flagging brand a new lease of life, Camilla Palmer asks

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

advertising overhaul.

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

Gap booming.

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.