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Think prime youth market and what comes to mind are slack, grunge, nose rings and tattoos.

But Lee Jeans, under Advertising Director Jamie Lockard, researched how to score with 17 to 22 year olds and discovered a new framework. Her studies found today's youth had a strong sense of optimism and can-do attitude.

"They are optimistic and not about rebellion," and about "doing the right thing," says Ms. Lockard, 35.

The result of the findings led to Lee's launch of its Lee Dungarees using a revival of a 1940s doll named Buddy Lee, "man of action." Although the company almost decided against showing the vintage ad character to a focus group-conventional wisdom is "don't show a doll to 18 year olds," she says.

Trend spotters say Lee is one of the few jeanswear brands to break through the clutter, but there's more to the success story than that: retail sales among Lee's top accounts in 1998 were up 12% from the previous year. Buddy Lee has achieved some fame. Authentic dolls have sold for more than $100 on the

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