TBWA CALLS MCBRIDE BACK INTO LEVI'S FOLD: NEW CREATIVE SPARK SOUGHT FOR SAGGING JEANS GIANT

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The tattered Levi's brand, about to post another year of significant sales declines, will have a new creative director working on its advertising at agency TBWA/Chiat/Day.

Chuck McBride, currently creative director on Nike at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., is moving to San Francisco to head up creative at the TBWA/Chiat/Day office, which services Levi Strauss & Co.

Much of the creative work on Levi's, however, has been orchestrated out of the agency's Playa del Rey, Calif., office by Chairman Lee Clow.

WORKED ON 'GOT MILK?'

Mr. McBride worked on the "Got milk?" campaign at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, before moving to Foote, Cone & Belding, where he developed two of that agency's commercials for Levi's Wide Leg jeans -- "Doctors" and "Elevator Fantasy."

TBWA/Chiat/Day succeeded FCB on the jeans business in February 1998.

At Wieden, Mr. McBride was leading the creative efforts on Nike, helping give the brand a softer face -- with the famed Tiger Woods "bouncing ball" spot (AA, July 5).

He also was a key player in the agency's attempt to revitalize itself, proving influential in helping Wieden rebound from its loss of the $125 million Microsoft Corp. business by working on new business including the PowerBar account.

Levi Strauss' global sales have been declining sharply since its $7 billion peak in 1996. The following year, sales dropped by 4%, then fell by 13% in '98. Sales for '99 are anticipated to slip again by more than 10%.

One industry executive said Levi Strauss' sales could fall to as low as $4 billion.

S&P WATCHES, TOO

Standard & Poor's has put the company's debt rating on a credit watch due to concerns over sales, loss of market share and earnings trends, despite significant cost reduction efforts that included the closing of some U.S. plants.

TBWA/Chiat/Day has launched a series of short-lived ad campaigns since attaining the account, starting with an outdoor effort positioning the brand as an "original" against designers such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.

That was followed by a campaign using old shots of movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe, tagged "Our models can beat up their models."

TV work began with a push for "hard jeans," followed by a "Truism" campaign that at first featured alternate rock stars discussing what was "true" to them. Later, a series of ads showed young people saying what was true to them.

The most recent effort -- tagged "Opt. for the original" -- has a sexy tone. One spot shows an invisible man and woman dropping their clothing; another features an artist who applies men's painted jeans to her canvases.

Peter Angelos, who has headed Levi's creative work at the TBWA/Chiat/Day office, now will report to Mr. McBride.

MARKETING ORIENTATION

Last month, Levi Strauss hired Phil Marineau, 52, as its CEO, from president-CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America. That followed a series of moves to restructure the company as a marketing organization focusing on consumer segments.

In addition, its clothing lines have been regrouped to sub-brands of their own, such as the higher-price and more trendy Silver Tab.

For Wieden -- and Nike -- the loss of Mr. McBride will be a big blow, said one executive close to the situation.

"He was the new savior," said the executive.

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