Levi's branding blitz in works

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In an attempt to parlay consumer interest in designer labels to its own advantage, Levi Strauss & Co. is developing a plan for a major branding campaign that could override individual-product advertising.

The world's largest apparel marketer is considering a shift of its marketing budget to the new effort and abandonment of campaigns for 501, Wide Leg and women's jeans, said an executive familiar with the company.

Last year, Levi's invested $87 million in media advertising for its branded products, up 6.1% from $82 million in 1995, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

SLATES, DOCKERS UNAFFECTED

It also spent $8.9 million on the Slates men's dress pants brand and $25 million on its Dockers casual clothing brand, CMR reports. Spending on those two brands would not be affected, the executive said.

The renewed interest in branding comes as the jeansmaker faces an onslaught of brand-building advertising from retailers--including some of its largest retail customers, J.C. Penney Co. with its Arizona jeans and Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s Canyon River Blues--as well as from designer labels such as Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, Nautica and Polo/Ralph Lauren.

"Levi's is in a pincers from the private-label and specialty brands in department stores and the designer brands," said Alan G. Millstein, publisher, Fashion Network Report.

Mark Hogan, director of consumer marketing for the Levi's brand, said in an earlier interview that the company is in the process of developing a new advertising strategy.

`WE ARE A STRONG BRAND'

The interest in designer brands "has added competition as well as an interest in the category," he said at the time. "It can be beneficial to us as well. We're a strong brand and we can continue to do things to capitalize on that brand," adding it would be "premature" to comment on the future direction of its marketing, which traditionally breaks in the summer in time for back-to-school buying.

He was not available for comment last week.

Peter R.V. Martin, newly appointed exec VP-worldwide account director on Levi Strauss & Co. at agency Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, acknowledged that the company is looking for ways to leverage its brand just as Nike has managed to balance its brand and product advertising.

Levi's "focus on product perhaps is to the detriment of the brand," said Mr. Martin, who moved to the new position in March from Ogilvy & Mather, New York, where he was senior partner and executive group director on the IBM Corp. account.

POST VACANT SINCE '96

The FCB post had been vacant since the middle of last year, when Jack Rooney left to head the San Francisco office of Leagas Delaney. Mr. Rooney subsequently moved to VP-marketing, Miller Brewing Co.

Mr. Martin is expected to work eventually on new business as well as other clients.

Last week, FCB hired Chris Shipman, a creative director at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., to take over as lead creative director on Levi's Dockers brand.

Copyright March 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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