Levi's Unveils New Marketing Ads

Wednesday, July 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Levi Strauss and Co. is blending youthful narcissism with a fashion throwback from the 1970s as it launches a marketing push to become hip again.

The embattled jeans company's new ad campaign — called ``Make Them Their Own'' — began Tuesday with a 52-page Vogue magazine supplement that features young people checking themselves out in their Levi's jeans.

In a few months, Levi's will launch its first major advertising campaign in nearly 20 years for its classic corduroy line of pants. The company is re-emphasizing cords as the 1970s fashion statements become stylish again.

Before the cords campaign begins Nov. 6, Levi's will focus on the sex appeal of its various jean styles.

The company will start its television blitz with a commercial featuring young men and women flirting with each other as they dance in front of dressing room mirrors.

The commercial, made by Oscar-nominated movie director Spike Jonze, is scheduled to debut Aug. 14 on MTV and other cable networks popular among the core target audience — consumers between the ages 18 and 24.

San Francisco-based Levi's has fallen out of favor with young adults and adolescents who have flocked to other brands, such as the Gap and Tommy Hilfiger, which are considered more cool.

The exodus has hurt Levi's badly. The company's 1999 sales totaled $5.1 billion, down 28 percent from $7.1 billion in 1996.

En route to a scant $5 million profit in 1999, Levi's hired marketing sharpshooter Phil Marineau from Pepsi last fall to become the company's CEO. He replaced Robert Haas, a member of the family that owns Levi's.

As Marineau focuses on younger consumers, Levi's officials are confident that the message underlying its new ad campaign won't alienate the older baby boomers that still represent a major market for the company.

With the new campaign, ``the Levi's brand communicates what consumers have always felt about their Levi's jeans — that they are the perfect foundation for displaying one's unique style,'' said Sean Dee, the company's brand marketing director.

The ad campaign, crafted by the TBWA/Chiat/Day agency, represents a critical piece in Levi's comeback attempt.

Advertising is crucial in just about every business, but marketing is especially important in the fashion industry, where an effective campaign can plant the seeds for lucrative new trends. Analysts credit Gap's catchy TV ads from a couple of years ago for making khaki clothes trendy again.

Fickle teen-agers are especially susceptible to advertising's siren call.

In a May survey of 1,500 teen-agers by the research firm Ferris, Baker Watts Inc., 63 percent of the respondents said ads in magazines and newspapers influenced their spending habits. Only 17 percent said print ads had no impact on them at all.

Joseph Teklits, a fashion industry analyst with Ferris, Baker Watts in Baltimore, believes Levi's is on the right track with the tone of its new commercials, as well as the decision to spotlight corduroys.

``Every good brand cycles around again, as long as no major damage has been done to it,'' he said. ``It looks like Levi's might have another good run left in it.''

If the new ads flop, it could be disastrous for Levi's because the commercials have already been shot and the company would be hard-pressed to come up with another campaign.

Privately held Levi's wouldn't disclose how much it is spending on the campaign, which is scheduled to run through May. Company officials called the blitz one of Levi's most aggressive sales pitches in years.