MARKETER: Levi Strauss & Co.
AGENCY: TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif.
RATING: Two and a half stars
Levi's, in yet its latest desperate attempt to stem the tide of teen-age indifference, has a brand new strategy.
That's not news, exactly, because in previous desperate attempts to stem the tide of teen-age indifference, Levi's has unveiled a new strategy, and a new ad campaign, approximately every six months for the past three years.
The last one allowed real teens to reveal their deepest, most intimate thoughts--such as ditching first period--to demonstrate Levi Strauss & Co.'s endorsement of the values and life experiences of its target market, no matter how shallow or disreputable.
Before that, the strategy briefly revolved around the "hard jeans" fashion trend Levi's reckoned would sweep America and restore the brand's image of cutting-edge coolness. Sure enough, hard jeans were quite a phenomenon. Nineteen extremely cool young Americans bought them.
So now, from TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., comes the latest gambit for returning Levi's to its rightful place as the quintessential American clothing brand. Behold the turnaround strategy:
Watching people hump.
Genius! Ignore the tagline, which happens to be "opt. for the original." The new strategy itself bravely, brilliantly declines to support the slogan (which reflects research about consumer preference for "authentic" jeans), nor even refers to it in any way, shape or form. That's because the two introductory ads are far too busy depicting coitus, and pre-coitus, in various ways between various shapes and forms.
One uses the digital wizardry that propelled the major studio release "The Invisible Man" virtually straight to home video to show a couple doing the dirty in a funky downtown loft. Another shows a sultry artist and her hunky model in perverse but colorful foreplay atop a wet-paint-covered canvas. The payoff is that their writhing yields painted Levi's on canvas, one piece in a gallery opening--attended by more than one bemused model--of many painted-jeans artworks. Ah, she is exhibiting her work, and her entire sexual history.
Opt art, we suppose.
Selling the sexual sizzle instead of the denim steak, of course, is opting for the unoriginal. In the U.S. market, Levi Strauss has been loath to take this path, ceding that territory to the likes of Calvin Klein. While a provocative, much-imitated Levi's campaign a decade ago from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London, did succeed in imbuing the brand with a certain erotic energy, those spots traded on the raw sensuality intrinsic to the product itself--at least when the product is snugly fitted against the overheated loins of impossibly gorgeous fashion models.
Indeed, what works best in these new spots is that very meeting of jeans and flesh. In a spot breaking next year, Victoria's Secret vixen Daniela Pestova is a pheromone supernova as she uses a passing choo-choo to make a pair of cutoffs. This is total retro-cheesecake, but the Levi's do look mighty fine.
In the painted-pants ad, the vignette is reasonably amusing, but the sloshing in wet paint tends to obscure, rather than flesh out, the sexy-jeans appeal. The invisible-lovers spot, meantime, is simply stupid. Though the product itself is more prominent, the lack of actual models robs the denim of its erotic magic. The production gimmick and the gratuitous sexual content conspire to make not just the models invisible, but the brand, as well.
So what would be the point, apart from just being dirty?
It turns out that this new strategy is no strategy at all. What Levi's has done is . . .
opt. for original. sin.
Copyright August 1999, Crain Communications Inc. ;