Friday, July 18, 2008

Levi's New Marketing Strategy

The Wall Street Journal shares with us what's going on with the most recognized brand of Jeans in the USA:

Levi's Marketers Hope One Size Fits All

Jeans and Ads Will Get
Only Minimal Tailoring
In Global 501 Campaign
July 18, 2008; Page B7

Levi Strauss & Co. is betting one size can fit all.

Bucking industry trends, Levi Strauss is retooling its signature button-fly 501 jeans so that they will have the same fit in each of the 110 countries in which the company says they are sold.

Simultaneously, the San Francisco-based company is launching its first global marketing campaign in which print and television ads contain the same theme, content and slogan, "Live Unbuttoned," the world over. In some cases, the actors will change to resemble the populace in the country where the ad is being presented.

[Levi's new global marketing campaign will feature print and television ads that contain the same theme, content and slogan, 'Live Unbuttoned,' the world over.]
Levi's new global marketing campaign will feature print and television ads that contain the same theme, content and slogan, 'Live Unbuttoned,' the world over.

The campaign, created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, shows characters letting go of inhibitions and being carefree, which viewers in some markets outside the U.S. might interpret as glorifying recklessness. One TV ad debuting in early August, for example, shows a young man and woman exchanging flirtatious glances as they unbutton their 501s.

Ultimately, they both pull down their jeans and, holding hands, leap off a pier into the ocean. The final shot shows them kissing underwater as the words "501" and "Live Unbuttoned" appear.

Levi Strauss CEO John Anderson says the company is going with both a global fit and global campaign because it believes straight-leg jeans are a global fashion trend, and now is the time to establish the 501 as the obvious option for shoppers around the world. But some analysts say financial considerations are also surely a contributing factor: It is simply cheaper to produce, sell and market one kind of jeans than dozens of varieties.

"One of the benefits of speaking with one voice is you can be more efficient and stretch your money," says Joyce King Thomas, chief creative officer at ad agency McCann Erickson, a unit of Interpublic Group, who had no involvement with the campaign.

There is a reason why American apparel companies often tailor the fit of their clothing when selling abroad: People in different parts of the world have different shapes and preferences. And some industry observers say Levi Strauss could have a tough time selling the concept of a single global fit. "At the end of the day, the customer may like the way the product looks and the image it represents, but if they don't like the fit, they're not going to buy it," says Monica Tang, an analyst with retail consultant Kurt Salmon Associates.

Levi Strauss says the fabric on the jeans is designed to mold to the wearer's body, regardless of body shape, which will help to account for differences in body type. The company also says it will continue to tailor the sizes offered to different parts of the world.

The stakes are high for Levi Strauss, whose sales peaked at $7.1 billion in 1996 before sliding for eight years while the company missed trends like premium denim and generally failed to respond quickly to changing consumer tastes among young people. Net sales rose 4% to $4.4 billion in 2007, when positive currency effects are included. They fell 8% in the second quarter of this year amid problems related to implementing a new software system designed to boost efficiency.

Levi Strauss has long played the localization game just like a lot of other companies. It has had creative teams in different regions that tinkered with the fit of its 501 jeans to cater to local tastes and fads. A 501 jean bought in New York sometimes had a different fit and look than one bought in Hong Kong. The "rise" (the distance between the crotch and the waistband) might be slightly higher or lower, or a seam more curved, or one pair of jeans might have a different pocket design.

And because the Levi brand has stood for different things in different places, the marketing message has varied by location. In Europe, where the company ran separate ad campaigns, Levi Strauss is considered premium denim, and its five-pocket 501s are more expensive there. But in America, a Levi 501 jean is considered more of a staple, and ads have consistently alluded to Levi Strauss's American roots.

Levi Strauss declined to disclose the cost of its new marketing campaign, which also includes billboards and viral videos -- clips posted on popular Web-video sites such as YouTube. Levi spent $77.7 million on ads in the U.S. last year, according to ad-tracking firm TNS Media Intelligence.

Levi Strauss joins a long list of multinational companies trying to market globally. What the company is doing is "gutsy in today's world," says Neil Parker, global head of strategy at branding agency Wolff Olins, a unit of Omnicom Group Inc. "We're living in a world that has moved a long way beyond Western advertising culture being exported everywhere on a consistent basis. How the core idea of what the brand is about gets translated really needs to be flexible to accommodate regional differences."

What is more, he says, fashion is much more about individual style these days, making it harder for an apparel company to dictate a trend from the "top-down."

Write to Ray A. Smith at

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