Levi's adds sexy, rebellious tone to retooled jeans

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With a new ad campaign delivering one of its most blatantly sexy messages, Levi Strauss & Co. is retailoring its jeans to deliver a more compelling product line for its young audience.

In its back-to-school effort, Levi Strauss on Aug. 16 breaks a campaign tagged "Opt. for the original" with two spots.

In one an invisible man, with only his clothing visible, is watching a game on TV when he answers the doorbell. A similarly invisible woman wearing a tight red sweater and jeans enters; they embrace, and she begins to unbutton her sweater and toss off her clothing.

As the two move toward the bedroom, the doorbell rings again to reveal the guy's invisible mother.


In the other spot, a woman artist is tossing red paint on a floor-sized canvas when a man enters and the two begin to undress. In cavorting on the floor, she paints over his jeans and, in the end, there's a gallery opening with the painted jeans as art. Throughout the gallery, men are standing in front of similar paintings with jeans, all done in different colors and designs.

The spots will run from Aug. 16 through Sept. 26 and resume in November through the holiday period.

A third spot, showing a woman removing her jeans and tossing them in front of a moving train, to turn them into cutoffs, is slated to break in spring 2000.

The advertising, from TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco and Playa del Rey, Calif., replaces an effort tagged "Truisms," in which individuals discussed what was "true" for them. That effort recently switched to outdoor, where up-and-coming music artists such as Ben Folds Five showed signs such as "Home is where you left your keys."


Lee Clow, chairman-chief creative officer of TBWA Worldwide, said the new campaign brings Levi's back to its core brand identity.

"Levi's is about being sexy and rebellious," he said.

Although Levi Strauss has been focusing its marketing dollars on music-related promotions, Mr. Clow said that's about to change.

"We're at a place that has to do with the need for broadcast to remind people what the brand is on a regular basis," he said.

Media spending was not disclosed, but Levi Strauss allocated an estimated $20 million on measured media last fall, according to Competitive Media Reporting.


Robert Holloway, VP-youth category, said the company has moved away from strict adherence to rules for its Red Tab brand, which includes 501 jeans. It is adding new fabrics such as khaki to the line to become more consumer-focused.

"We really had a pile of dumb rules," he said. "We are pushing the brand right through product development going through supporting channels of distribution."

Mr. Holloway said the company's new marketing focus is beginning to produce results, with holiday orders up 9%. Other encouraging signs are an increased interest in tighter jeans.

Not all the news is positive, however.

Irma Zandl, president of youth consultancy Zandl Group, said her studies indicate the interest in Levi's jeans dropped by 40% from January through June of this year, following a 13% decline in 1998.

Overall interest in the jeans category dropped 11% last year and fell an additional 19% in the first six months of this year, Ms. Zandl said.

Copyright July 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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