Levi Strauss executives were concerned "too much of their image [was riding] on new products and trend-driven products," says Mr. Wilkie.
"We needed to start a countertrend," says Mr. Wilkie, currently marketing director for Levi Strauss Spain and Portugal. "We needed to build core equity for the core product for the long term."
The response was the "501 reasons" campaign from agency Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, one of the largest in the company's history. Departing from the usual emotional and image message, Mr. Wilkie, 34, ushered in advertising pointing out some of the product's genuine benefits, most of them told in a humorous tone.
Among them: 501s in Prague can be traded for a car (albeit one that doesn't work too well), and Martians fear and respect the red tab.
"We have a lot of things we want to tell [the audience], and the campaign was a framework to say, `here's some and there's more to come'," he says.
As important to the campaign's success as the jeans' benefits were the media used to convey the message to the young target. Vehicles included outdoor, CD-ROM, radio and the Propaganda Box, an in-store display with free campaign stickers and postcards.
So far, the results of the campaign, expected to last three years, are encouraging. Unaided brand awareness rose to 35% from 22%, the highest since tracking began in January 1994, while unaided advertising awareness rose from 19% to 29%.
"It has helped seed the brand with a really young target group," he says.