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LEVI STRAUSS DONS NEW APPROACH FOR ATTRACTING MEN NEW BRAND PLANNED FOR CASUAL WORKWEAR

By Published on .

Levi Strauss & Co. has refashioned how it markets some core products with an eye toward mid-'90s trends, to shore up its first-place position in men's wear.

The efforts range from the introduction of a new brand tagged to the more casual workplace, to a change of positioning for the flagship 501 blue jeans. Levi Strauss is even taking a fresh look at its overall brand image.

The biggest project involves the launch of a new, as yet unnamed brand, Levi Strauss' first since Dockers rolled out in 1986. The new pants brand is expected to be introduced within a year, fitting a niche between Dockers and more traditional dress slacks.

The line, headed by brand President Jann Westfall, formerly general manager of Levi Strauss U.K., may expand to include jackets, which could be worn as a blazer or with matching slacks as a relaxed suit.

Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, Levi's agency for North America, is expected to get the ad assignment for the new brand.

The popularity of men's casual clothing is also prompting some action for Dockers. Levi Strauss will relaunch the Authentics part of the Dockers line in time for Father's Day. Dockers Authentics will be featured in its own free standing display, instead of adjacent to the rest of the Dockers line in stores. These Authentics "boutiques" will be positioned with other midprice collections or in the young men's section of department stores, competing with the likes of Calvin Klein.

The displays are planned to show up in 150 stores in 43 metropolitan markets nationwide by fall.

A marketing effort "will be launched in late summer using non-traditional media and publicity," said Robert Hanson, director of marketing for Dockers and part of a multidisciplinary task force that last May started pulling together the program.

For Levi Strauss' venerable 501s, the marketer is trying to interest a younger crowd in the blue jeans now that the classic tight jeans are out of the fashion forefront. The repositioning is targeted to 15-to-19-year-old boys.

A campaign, expected to start this fall, will employ non-traditional media including possibly one of the first commercial uses of a new outdoor lighting technology from FCB's Advanced Communication Group.

That technology, which can project high-quality still and motion pictures on buildings and other large surfaces, is being considered for use as a touring light show at rock concerts.

The campaign is the first for 501s since Levi Strauss broke its 1993 "Mysteries" campaign, which continued running in '94.

Defying the current trend toward looser jeans, Levi Strauss has dropped its 3-year-old campaign for loose-fitting product, which the marketer believes has lost its fashion edge.

Levi Strauss is also pushing its brand image for the first time in more than a dozen years to ward off The Gap and other private-label denim products from its prime retail customers. J.C. Penney Co. now claims $1 billion in annual sales for its Arizona brand. A new denim product is expected this fall from Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Two 30-second animated spots glorify in a WPA-era style Levi's trademark leatherlike patch, red tab, batwing logo and pocket stitching style. Both spots are themed "They're not Levi's jeans until we say they are."

The first commercial, which has an industrial theme, aired during the NCAA basketball tournament. The second spot, using agricultural imagery with "farmers" who grow the trademark, is scheduled to begin in August during the NFL season on Fox.

But the effort hasn't received the acclaim other branding messages garnered in times of old. An executive who worked on the Levi Strauss account called the new brand campaign "reactionary, defensive." "Levi's used to be the coolest thing going," he lamented.

Levi Strauss spends $100 million annually on advertising-$75 million on Levi's brand and products, and $25 million on Dockers. But for all that, the world's largest clothing marketer had stagnant U.S. sales last year. Sales of 501s dropped 5% in 1994 after a 21% slide in '93.

Analysts wonder whether the new marketing efforts are too little, too late.

Last year Levi Strauss could claim an estimated 20% of the 400 million pair jeans market, putting it in second place behind VF Corp., with 30%, according to Jeanswear Communications, New York, a denim industry organization.

"The brand share is collapsing," said Alan Millstein, publisher of the Fashion Network Report, New York. He noted Levi Strauss' U.S. sales were flat at $3.7 billion last year, with a 5% decline in volume offset by a 5% price hike.

"It's too late. The retailer has fallen out of love with Levi's," Mr. Millstein said. "The retailer is in divorce court. It is not a matter of sending flowers."

But Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Consulting Group, Scotch Plains, N.Y., said he believes the possible motive behind the current strategies may be linked to the staggering sum-now at $850 million-the company is earmarking for a restructuring.

The money is being used to deal with long festering, very basic marketing problems such as maintaining inventories on the retail shelf, as well as new problems such as the launch of company stores.

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