Levi's makes move to drop all the hype and push products

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Levi Strauss & Co. is opting for a new marketing direction.

Responding to a call by new President-CEO Phil Marineau to rebuild the struggling brand by focusing on product and not just on hype, the apparel manufacturer is dropping its "Opt. For the Original" tag unveiled last year.

It's also launching two new product lines and ads for the fall to seed interest in its products among youth, said Sean Dee, director-Levi's brand marketing. Print will support its Lot 53 clothing line while TV spots will back fashion-forward Levi's Engineered jeans, which Mr. Dee called "the basics for the new millennium."

The new style of jeans has curved-bottom hems, slanted back pockets and a larger watch-pocket to hold pagers and other electronic items. They have been successful in Asia and Europe, he said. In the U.S., Levi Strauss will move the Engineered collection first in specialty stores, supported with four print ads breaking from May through July in alternative lifestyle and fashion books such as Flaunt, Nylon, Paper and Raygun. The collection later this fall will be placed in department stores and will get four TV spots.


The fall spots are the first major work from new TBWA/Chiat/Day Executive Creative Director Chuck McBride and employ a production technique used by Icelandic musicians Stefan Arni and Siggi Kinski of the group GusGus in their performances. The spots use still photography to create movement that looks like that produced by a strobe light. Sensuous executions feature twosomes. In one, a couple kiss on a beach. In another, a couple dances on a rooftop against a city skyline.

The spots are `'organic and mechanical, a form of engineered movement," said Mr. McBride.

Ads for Levi's Lot 53 clothing, part of the Red Tab line, feature the cast of the WB's "Roswell" show, based on a reported 1947 UFO sighting in New Mexico. Print ads, running in 13 different titles in May and June, show the stars posing in the Lot 53 clothing worn on the program.


The new ad approach is being complemented by an effort to build closer relationships with Levi Strauss' retail customers, a specialty of Mr. Marineau from his days of engineering relationships between PepsiCo and supermarket chains.

Last week, for example, Levi Strauss for the first time joined with retail partner Sears, Roebuck & Co. in a national sponsorship program, the first concert tour by Grammy Award winner Christina Aguilera. Levi Strauss previously focused its joint promotions on smaller, local events, and will continue those efforts as well.

Sears last year shouldered the cost of sponsoring a Backstreet Boys concert, but found the combination with Levi's jeans "an easy way to shore up costs," said John Lebbad, Sears' director of event marketing and sales promotion. He called the manufacturer's partnership move "a huge step in the right direction."

The Aguilera concert will be backed with a TV campaign from Sears' agency Y&R Advertising, Chicago, as well as in-store and event promotions.


Mr. Dee also indicated the retailer, which spent $72 million on advertising last year, has settled into its relationship with agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco, appointed in 1998.

"Chuck has been fantastic -- very innovative and strategic on work for fall and the holiday," he said, adding the shop also has hired a strong account executive on the business, Mike Jurkovak, who worked on Levi's at previous agency FCB Worldwide, San Francisco.

The strategy shift is aimed at reviving sales at Levi Strauss. Sales, at $4.9 billion for 1999, are well down from their 1996 peak of $7.1 billion and are not, according to Mr. Marineau, expected to reverse course until 2001.

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