The apparel marketer placed one of the nation's most prominently advertised brands in review early last week. Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, Levi's agency of 67 years, is believed to be participating.
One executive familiar with the situation, however, said the incumbent agency is "stepping back and taking stock" of the situation and has not decided whether it will participate.
AN ONGOING REVIEW
"This is part of an ongoing review of all aspects of the Levi's brand," said Steve Goldstein, VP-marketing and research for the Levi's brand in the U.S. "We want to be sure we are getting the very best that is available to us."
Levi Strauss, a private company, does not report sales; however, a Levi's spokesman said that while it continues to be the No. 1 apparel brand in the world and in the U.S., Levi's has had a cycle of 10 years of sales increases that, it appears, the marketer will not be able to continue this year.
Mr Goldstein, however, said only, "This season has been a difficult season for all apparel. We continue to get competitive pressure from designers and private labels."
He added, however, that he's pleased with FCB's recently launched "They Go On" ad campaign.
BRAND UNDER SCRUTINY
Other aspects of the brand under scrutiny range from packaging and labels to placement of the red tab on the jeans. The sweeping review, however, won't include its European account, held by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London, or its Hispanic advertising, handled by Mendoza, Dillon & Asociados, Newport Beach, Calif.
The company also is re-evaluating aspects of its own organizational structure, starting with issues such as denim suppliers.
NEW TOP EXECS INVOLVED
In addition to Mr. Goldstein, the panel of senior Levi's executives conducting the agency review includes new top management-among others, Gordon Shank, president, Levi Strauss, the Americas; and Tom Fanoe, president of Levi's Brand USA.
Mr. Fanoe, a 28-year Levi veteran, most recently was VP-customer relations USA and earlier ran Levi's youthwear business and its Canadian operations.
Levi Strauss & Co. said in a statement it was satisfied with FCB's creative work, and the review did not reflect on results of the new branding campaign, launch-ed in August.
"We know we have good advertising," Mr. Goldstein said.
SCRAMBLE AMONG AGENCIES
The announcement set off a scramble among some of the nation's leading creative shops for a place on the review list, among them TBWA Chiat/Day, New York and Venice, Calif., and Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco.
BBH, which has been considering a U.S. office or presence, is said to be a strong contender.
Such shops as Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, which have Nike, and Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, which has VF Corp.'s Lee jeans, are presumed to be precluded from participating.
Other shops are cautious about participating because of Levi's professed satisfaction with the current creative product.
"I would want to know exactly what advertising problem they were trying to solve," said the head of one agency.
DECISION BY FEBRUARY
"We have not made a list of agencies," Mr. Goldstein said, adding that the review panel will determine a small list of contenders within the next weeks, with an assignment and a decision by February.
"This is a wide search; there is no list or number" of agencies, he said.
A consultancy is not being used.
The review follows months of rumors that FCB's grip on the business was slipping.
Mike Koelker, FCB's executive creative director who was responsible for the celebrated "501 blues" campaign and had close ties to the client, died in 1995. Around the time of his death, FCB came close to losing the marketer's Dockers account, but Mr. Koelker's successor, Paul Wolfe, worked with FCB creative teams to sell the company on the current "Nice Pants" campaign.
EARLIER ACCOUNT SHIFTS
About a year ago, a piece of Levi's direct marketing business was given to Miller/Kadanoff, San Francisco. Earlier this year, the interactive account was put into review (AA, Sept. 15).
The review does not affect FCB's other two assignments, for Dockers and Slates dress slacks.
Jack Boland, president-CEO of FCB, San Francisco, said the agency "stood tall"