Wrangler raises budget to $20 mil

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Seizing what it sees as an opportunity to overtake ailing rival Levi Strauss & Co., VF Corp.'s Wrangler jeans division is upping its ad budget to $20 million to support a new denim-fabric innovation.

Mark Clift, VP-marketing communications for VF's jeanswear-mass market division, said the new fabric, called five-star denim, is stronger but more comfortable than regular jeans fabric. Wrangler relaxed-fit jeans will feature the product innovation in three different finishes, he said, with the possibility of expansion to other jeans styles.

Wrangler has bought time on Viacom's CBS and National Football League coverage on News Corp.'s Fox, as well on AOL Time Warner's TNT college-football coverage. The $20 million ad effort includes spots on Viacom's Nick at Nite, Discovery Communications' Discovery Channel and other cable programming, according to Mr. Clift. Print ads will run in Time Inc.'s Sports Illustrated and Field & Stream and Vulcan Ventures' Sporting News. While the major focus is men, who comprise the largest Wrangler buyers, print ads will also run in a number of magazines with largely female readership, such as Gruner & Jahr USA's Rosie and Time Inc.'s People.

The campaign will feature spots and print ads from Toth Design & Advertising, New York, using a long-running tagline, "As real as Wrangler." The TV spots continue creative developed in 2000 showing a group of people on a road trip.

Mr. Clift said Wrangler is upping its advertising budget from $9 million because the jeansmaker sees it as an opportunity to break out of its neck-and-neck race with Levi Strauss. "We're in a virtual dead heat" in terms of market share among men, he said. "It's a good opportunity to build awareness and relevance of the brand."

For the quarter ended June 29, VF Corp. reported that total sales fell 10% from $1.32 billion a year ago to $1.19 billion. VF said it posted mid-single-digit sales declines during the period in domestic jeanswear, European jeanswear, domestic intimate apparel, outdoor and imagewear.

Mr. Clift noted that while young women's jeans are rising in sales, due to the superlow-jeans fad, overall the jeans market's growth rate has been at a 10-year low.

Marshal Cohen, co-president, NPDFashionworld, however, said jeans sales are up 12% among teens, with youngsters, especially girls, buying an additional pair of jeans to augment their back-to-school wardrobe.

"American teens have $100 per week in discretionary funds," he said. "This is an opportunity." He noted, however, that jeans marketers are competing not just with each other, but with broad pulls on the teen marketing dollar, such as entertainment expenditures, electronic image makers such as cellphones, and especially video games and software.

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