Levi's, Wieden & Kennedy Part Ways After Five Years

Moves Comes Less Than Two Months After New Global CMO Takes Post

By Published on . 7

Wieden & Kennedy and Levi's have parted ways after a five-year stint.

A statement from both companies called the split "mutual," but people familiar with the business said that differences over creative direction were at the core.

A spokeswoman for Levi's did not confirm whether a search for a new agency has begun, or whether a new agency has already been appointed. Prior to Wieden & Kennedy, the brand worked with Publicis Groupe's Bartle Bogle Hegarty. When Wieden took on the America account for Levi's, BBH remained the agency for Europe and Asia, though the agency completely parted ways with Levi's in 2010.

Levi's has gone through a number of senior-management changes, including marketing executives, in recent years. The company in August promoted Jennifer Sey, its senior VP of e-commerce, to the role of global chief marketing officer, after the post had been vacant for more than a year.

Ms. Sey replaced Rebecca Van Dyck, who left Levi's in February 2012 for a marketing post at Facebook. During her 10-month tenure at Levi's, Ms. Van Dyck oversaw the launch of the brand's first global campaign, "Go Forth." She succeeded Jaime Cohen Szulc, the company's first global CMO, who'd joined the company from Eastman Kodak.

The Levi's "Go Forth" campaign introduced a message of optimism to a U.S. (and the wider world) going through tough times. The campaign featured photography from Ryan McGinley and a spot that used an original recording of Walt Whitman reading lines from his 1888 poem "America." In 2010, Levi's continued the "Go Forth" message with this campaign centered on the financially strapped town of Braddock, Pa. Wieden & Kennedy worked with director John Hillcoat ("The Road") to document the town's struggles. As part of the campaign, Levi's donated more than a million dollars to help rebuild the community.

Levi's and agency went beyond America's shores with a 2011 spot in which Charles Bukowski's "The Laughing Heart" became the backdrop featuring uplifting vignettes of hopeful youth. The launch of the campaign was delayed in the U.K. because some of the footage bore a resemblance to riots rocking London at the time.

Along with Ms. Sey's appointment, Levi's also named Karyn Hillman to the newly created position of chief product officer. Grant Barth, the head of men's merchandising at Levi's, is taking on the newly created position of chief merchandising officer. James Curleigh became president of Levi's in July 2012. Charles Bergh, a former Procter & Gamble exec, became parent company Levi Strauss & Co.'s president-CEO in 2011.

"We leave the partnership with the utmost respect for the brand and wish the Levi's team the best for a successful future," said Tom Blessington, managing director of Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., in the statement.

"We would like to thank Wieden & Kennedy for their creative energy and engagement over the past five years," said Mr. Curleigh in the statement. "The team have supported us through a significant period in the Levi's brand evolution."

Despite its iconic status as a brand, Levi's is not a big media spender. The company spent about $39.4 million on U.S. measured media last year, roughly the same as 2011, according to Kantar Media.

--Contributing Ann Christine Diaz

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