DOCKERS MISSION SWEEPS FORWARD;LEVI'S FIRST-EVER COMPANY-RUN CONTEST IS PART OF RELATIONSHIP BUILDING DRIVE

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Levi Strauss & Co.'s Dockers brand, paving the way for its retail stores and feeling pressure from private labels, is moving into relationship marketing to maintain consumers' allegiance.

Dockers just wrapped up its first company-run sweepstakes promotion and later this year plans a consumer-oriented home page on the World Wide Web.

Since Levi Strauss is "the leading marketer of men's pants, it's important to have a direct dialogue with consumers so we really understand their needs," said Robert Hanson, VP-marketing for Dockers USA. "We definitely look at digital as an opportunity to establish a one-to-one relationship with the consumer."

SWEEPSTAKES WITH A `MISSION'

Dockers last week concluded the sweepstakes, part of "The Mission"-its marketing campaign designed to boost casual dress days in the workplace.

In the past, Dockers-sponsored sweepstakes were left exclusively to retail stores selling the apparel.

A 16-page insert featuring the sweepstakes was distributed in 4.5 million copies of The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. The advertising included a tongue-in-cheek sample petition to management encouraging elimination of traditional male business dress codes.

Consumers also were invited to call a toll-free number to vote for one of three innovative individuals-the designer of an off-road wheelchair; a computer recycler; or a developer of biodegradable lids for soft drinks and coffee cups. The innovator with the most votes will get $50,000. The estimated 100,000 casting ballots also are eligible to win $20,000 in a drawing. Names collected by Dockers will be used for mailings and other brand development efforts.

FROM EUROPE TO U.S.

Stockholm agency Garbergs Annonsbyra originally produced "The Mission" insert for use in Europe. Dockers' U.S. agency Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, adapted it for this country. FCB also handles the Web site.

On the store front, Dockers currently has 10 of its own outlets in the U.S. and plans to open 35 more through the year 2000. Parent Levi Strauss has opened 22 Levi's stores in the U.S., of 50 planned by 2000.

PRIVATE-LABEL PRESSURE

Dockers is doing more than establishing a relationship with the customer until its retail stores are up and running, said Alan Millstein, editor and publisher of Fashion Network Report. Just as parent Levi Strauss is facing pressure from private-label jeans sold at large retailers, Dockers is now fending off private labels sold at its major retail outlets.

"Dockers has had success with wrinkle-free. Now the retailers are shifting from [featuring] Dockers to private labels that offer consumers lower prices and retailers higher margins," Mr. Millstein said.

The push to relationship marketing comes in the wake of one of Dockers' largest marketing efforts, the humorous $40 million "Nice pants" campaign that broke last fall.

BACKING DOCKERS' AUTHENTICS

Dockers last year also began a major marketing effort for its upscale Dockers' Authentics line. One element in that drive was to feature Authentics in free standing, premium-price boutiques in department stores. Mr. Hanson said, however, that Authentics sold better when placed next to Dockers' basic line and will be moved into that position.

Dockers this year will introduce in its stores the "personal pair" concept for women's pants. Personal pair jeans, which are made to order using four customer measurements, are already available at a limited number of Levi's stories.

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