Why Levi's went global with its latest campaign

Levi's is launching the first global marketing campaign in its 138-year history. Nicola Clark talks to the fashion brand's chief marketing officer, Becca Van Dyck, about how the brand is using Facebook as the launch platform for the activity, while showing respect for differences between local markets.

Levi's global campaign
Levi's global campaign

Robert Hanson, global president of the Levi's' brand, made a bold statement last month at the opening of the denim brand's latest Print Workshop, a community-based screenprinting space housed in a temporary venue in Berlin's former mint, Alte Munze. Unveiling the brand's first global ad campaign, he said: 'People who wear Levi's get shit done.'

This description could certainly be applied to Becca Van Dyck, who has overseen a transformation in marketing at the brand, despite having been in the chief marketing officer role only since April.

As the age-old debate of local versus global marketing rumbles on, Levi's strategy has undergone a revolutionary shift for the 138-year-old brand, centralising its activity into a single campaign, masterminded by Wieden & Kennedy and OMD.

The resulting global push, 'Go forth', the concept for which was introduced in the US in 2009, will launch simultaneously across 19 countries through a Facebook Roadblock on 9 August which aims to put the activity in front of 400m consumers. The campaign will run across 24 countries in 19 languages via digital, print, outdoor, film, TV, in-store and internal marketing communications channels.

The brand has also created a 60-second short film that features real-life stories of individuals empowering young people in Berlin. The film, which is running on Facebook and the Levi's website, is intended to underline the message that Levi's clothing is 'the uniform of progress'.

The message, not the medium

The campaign's focus on Facebook as its launch platform might suggest a dramatic change in thinking at the apparel brand, which has long been known for its big-budget, headline-grabbing TV ads. Nonetheless, while Van Dyck is not fazed by the shift, neither is she keen to jump on the social media bandwagon.

'It was message first, not media,' she insists. 'Lots of people are enamoured with new media, but it's not all about the media channel for us.' Instead, the clarity of the creative idea underpinned the campaign.

Experiential activity is also core to the push and Levi's launched the Berlin Print Workshop to coincide with the Bread and Butter fashion trade show in the city. The space is the fourth in the series of Levi's Workshops dedicated to craftsmanship and follows the launch of print, photo and film workshops in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles respectively.

Levi's has commissioned the young Portuguese street artist Alexandre Farto, known as Vhils, to create a series of portraits on buildings across Berlin. Vhils uses a unique technique: his murals are etched into the walls using hammers, chisels, power tools and explosives, which rip away plaster, brick and paint from a wall to create a relief image in photo-realistic detail. According to Levi's, Vhils' art is 'vandalism in the purest sense, in that he has to create to enjoy'.

The global positioning is the result of extensive research across 12 countries focusing on the youth market. 'There were differences (in consumers across the globe), but the insight we locked into was that young people today do want to make the world a better place, they want to become pioneers,' says Van Dyck. According to the research, 82% of young consumers want to create positive change in the world and a further 85% feel it is their responsibility to make that change. 'We are definitely taking the lead from our consumers: they feel they can make a difference in the world,' adds Van Dyck.

While there have been dramatic changes in recent months, the roots of Levi's transformation lie further back; over the past two years it has consolidated its global agency roster, as well as making significant changes in product ranges.

Hanson sees the 'Go forth' positioning as more than a marketing idea. 'It is also a rallying cry, because now, more than ever, the world needs people with a pioneering spirit who believe that anything is possible. For youth today, optimism is power,' he adds.

So does Levi's significant marketing investment indicate that the long-awaited recovery is on the horizon? 'I do feel it,' says Van Dyck. 'I'm not sure if it is statistically accurate, but this feels like a really important time and there is confidence both within the organisation and beyond.'

There is no doubt that, despite having been at Levi's for only months, Van Dyck has immersed herself in the brand's heritage and positioning. She refers to its history and innovative spirit, as well as the brand taking its responsibilities seriously.

Levi's has been a frontrunner in this area. Twenty years ago, it introduced Terms of Engagement requiring its manufacturing factories to follow health, safety and environmental standards, considered ground-breaking at the time. In May this year, it expanded its CSR commitments across its global supply chain. John Anderson, Levi's chief executive and president, said: 'We are proposing a new apparel industry standard of social, economic and environmental sustainability that focuses on improving workers' lives.'

In an industry renowned for its ever-shifting trends and ruthless innovation, the endurance of Levi's, despite declining sales from the late-90s until 2006, remains a brand phenomenon. As of February 2011, it operated 482 stores in 31 countries; its 2010 net revenues were $4.4bn.

While a shift to a global positioning throws up many challenges, the clarity of thinking and sense of purpose embodied by the Levi's senior team suggests that the 'Go forth' message is here to stay. And with that, Van Dyck, in her 'uniform of progress' - Levi's jeans, to the rest of us - heads off to return to San Francisco.


Van Dyck's CV is a roll-call of US megabrands that have successfully forged a global footprint (see below).

So, how did Van Dyck achieve such an enviable marketing pedigree? 'I was going to save the world, as most of us were going to (when we were young),' she jokes. Instead, she studied psychology before getting a job in a museum where she became interested in advertising 'as part of the art world and a cultural text'.

Her first advertising role was at Chiat Day in New York, where she worked on the Reebok account, before going on to Wieden & Kennedy, where she oversaw the global Nike business.

Van Dyck clearly believes her agency experience has stood her in good stead in her role at Levi's. 'The foundation I was given is incredible,' she says. 'At an agency you are constantly solving problems and sourcing new ideas. With that comes a certain degree of paranoia and anxiousness, which has stayed with me.'

While she is based in San Francisco, Van Dyck's global role involves a substantial amount of travel. As she 'grew up travelling', this aspect of the role doesn't appear to bother her.

She has certainly developed the necessary skills to thrive as a global chief marketing officer, and shows no sign of jetlag or fatigue. Her secret? She follows three rules. She never sleeps on the plane, immediately turns her watch to the time at her destination and goes for a run as soon as possible on arrival. During the latter she, of course, uses Nike+.

There is another reason for Van Dyck's apparent unflappability, however. Her highest praise is reserved for her husband, whom she describes as an 'amazing' full-time parent. 'I'm a mother to a sevenand a nine-year-old, a wife, a sister, a friend. I'm all those things, first and foremost,' she says.

Each of her children has a map above their bed, and together they stick a pin into wherever she is travelling to next. 'My job is part of our lives and they always know where I am,' she adds.


1992-1994: Account executive, Chiat Day NY

1994-2006: Global account director, Nike, Wieden & Kennedy

2007-2011: Senior director worldwide advertising, rising to senior director worldwide marketing communications and advertising, Apple

Apr 2011-present: Chief marketing officer, Levi's