The animated spot using lifelike clay figures is the first Levi's ad created by the London agency to run in the U.S., and more of the agency's work will follow. Nevertheless, Levi's managers stress that San Francisco shop Foote, Cone & Belding, which holds the estimated $100 million North America account, securely remains agency of record despite recent management changes there.
Strategies for the U.S. and European campaigns are different, they note. In Europe, the brand is primarily positioned as 1950s-era Americana while the U.S. strategy takes a hip, youthful approach.
"We're a global company and a global brand," said Jill Lynch, a Levi Strauss & Co. marketing director. "We are looking at more collaborative and shared marketing, but in general the advertising will stay in the country in which it is developed."
The new commercial, breaking in Europe on Aug. 14 and in the U.S. in September followed by Asia and Africa, opens on a screaming woman trapped in a burning hotel. A square-jawed, jeans-clad man steals a policeman's motorcycle and rides it up a fire ladder to the hotel roof. Removing his Levi's 501 jeans, the hero rescues the woman by wrapping his pants around a telephone wire so both of them can slide to safety.
The tagline is "Double-stitched for xtra strength." In the U.S. only, the commercial concludes with one of 501 reasons to wear Levi's 501s, the theme of the FCB campaign.
FCB has "researched our ads in the past and felt like they weren't right for their [U.S.] market," said Helen Weavers, an account planner at Bartle. But now, she said, "a number of ads" from the London agency are being considered for the U.S.
Levi's decision to use Bartle ads in the U.S. stems in part from its desire to pursue a younger market of 15-to-19-year-old males, rather than 15 to 24.
For the past decade, Bartle has turned out stylish, creatively acclaimed 501 commercials for Europe. Levi's is the market leader there, with 12% of the European jeans market by unit sales, said Roy Edmonson, Levi's European marketing director.
Non-U.S. sales account for 43% of all Levi's sales.
In the U.S., FCB has been undergoing significant managerial changes during the past year. Mike Koelker, exec VP-executive creative director, who for more than 20 years crafted the Levi's brand with highly awarded creative work, died last month. He had been replaced in March by Paul Wolfe, previously a partner in Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York. The "501 reasons" campaign is Mr. Wolfe's first Levi's effort.
Charles Siler contributed to this story.