After being presented with more than $1 million in strategic and creative ideas, Levi Strauss & Co.'s decision came down to a pair of jeans.
While most presenters from the five shops competing for the marketer's $90 million U.S. jeans account wore Levi's to the pitch, Lee Clow, chairman-chief creative officer worldwide at TBWA Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., showed up in a pair of well-worn 501s that "he could have picked off his floor in the bedroom," said Steve Goldstein, Levi's VP-marketing and research.
OVERALL GRASP OF BRAND
Such comfort with the product was just one symbol of the agency's overall grasp of the brand and its challenges--as was a guerrilla marketing strategy designed to put Levi's back on track with trend-setting teens.
Mr. Goldstein said the shop--which has been on a new-business tear in the last year--"did a remarkable job of studying and understanding the brand ... When all was said and done, there was a clear winner."
TBWA Chiat/Day's win was bad news for Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, which lost the account after 68 years. The other finalists were Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London, Levi's agency in Europe and Asia; BBDO, New York and Los Angeles; and Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco.
To Levi Strauss, Mr. Clow and his jeans may symbolize what is needed to revitalize sales: a guru who understands the brand. For more than 20 years, Levi Strauss worked with Mike Koelker, the late Foote, Cone & Belding creative director, who focused much of his career on Levi's, devising brand elements from the classic 501 Blues TV campaign to garment tags.
Mr. Clow "will be devoting a significant part of his time" to the Levi's account, and will work on only one other account, Apple Computer, Mr. Goldstein said, adding the agency will be in charge of "every aspect of how the brand is messaged."
Bob Kuperman, president-CEO, North America, for TBWA/Chiat Day, however, said the account will be handled out of the agency's new San Francisco office, by Carisa Bianchi, managing director, and Peter Angelos, creative director.
Mr. Angelos previously worked on the Levi's business at FCB, developing the Spike Lee-directed "Button Fly Report" campaign in 1989.
"Peter will be the creative director on the account," said Mr. Kuperman, adding Mr. Clow "won't be devoted exclusively to Levi's."
Mr. Kuperman said he expected the San Francisco shop, which will report directly both to him and to Mr. Clow, to grow to about 100 employees as it staffs up for the account.
Also working in TBWA Chiat/Day's favor, Mr. Goldstein said, was that it did not approach the assignment "as a traditional ad agency," but as a "marketing consultant."
Among the concepts pitched by the agency was a guerrilla campaign to reach teens in subtle ways, such as through pirate radio stations, which would broadcast "secret" information on where to find Levi's pricey new Red Line jeans.
FIRST WORK THIS SUMMER
TBWA Chiat/Day's first work for Levi's is expected this summer. Until then, the marketer will continue to use FCB's "They Go On" campaign.
Levi's is under attack from both designer brands such as Calvin Klein, Polo by Ralph Lauren, Tommy Jeans and DKNY Jeans, and private-label jeans marketed by retailers such as the Gap, Sears, Roebuck & Co. and J.C. Penney Co. Levi's is now attempting to reshape itself more as a fashion brand.
For TBWA Chiat/Day, the Levi Strauss win caps a string that hit $400 million last year with the addition of Apple Computer, Taco Bell creative, ABC, the Weather Channel, Prodigy and Samsonite Corp.
The impact of the decision on FCB, one of San Francisco's largest agencies, will be relatively minor in terms of billings. FCB retains some $90 million in combined spending from Levi Strauss' Dockers and Slates brands. And in the last quarter of 1997, the agency picked up some $300 million in new business from clients such as AT&T Wireless, 3Com, Taco Bell and MTV.
But the culture of the agency, a shop staffed with creative talents who consistently produced high-concept TV work, might change, particularly since the new accounts require more direct marketing or tech marketing expertise.
As soon as Levi Strauss' decision was announced, Geoff Thompson, the worldwide creative director brought in to head the pitch, left for a previously announced position with FCB in London. The agency is searching for a creative to head the office following the earlier departure of Paul Wolfe, formerly exec VP-executive creative director.
Copyright January 1998, Crain Communications Inc.