In 1853, Levi Strauss, an immigrant from Bavaria, founded a dry goods business in San Francisco, which he built over the next 20 years. In 1872, Mr. Strauss teamed with Jacob Davis, a Nevada tailor, to patent a process for placing metal rivets at points of strain on pants. Mr. Strauss became the first president of the company formed to market the pants, a position he held until 1902, and Levi Strauss & Co. began to market its product with flyers. Billboards and other print advertising followed.
In 1967, Levi Strauss began airing its first TV commercials, handled by Foote, Cone & Belding. The spots relied on humor to convey the real value behind the brand. In 1969, FCB produced three groundbreaking TV spots that used rotoscope?a film technique in which live-action shots are painted by hand, creating a surreal appearance.
In 1977, "Farmer," a spot from FCB, won first place at the American Advertising Federation awards and was named one of Advertising Age's 100 Best of the Year in TV advertising. In 1978, the International Broadcasting Awards named FCB's "Having a Fit" best in TV and "Jogger" best in radio.
The 1980s, brought competition from designer-label jeans such as Calvin Klein and Guess, and the marketer diversified into additional niche markets to maintain its overall share. In 1980, FCB's "Working Man" and "Engine" highlighted U.S. traditions. Taglines such as "We still build the Levi's jeans that helped build America" or "Go ahead, chase a dream in Levi's jeans" were winners. "Working man" was honored by Advertising Age and the International Broadcasting Awards.
In 1984, Levi Strauss launched the well-known "Levi's 501 Blues" campaign via FCB. The campaign featured actor Bruce Willis and singer Bobby McFerrin. One of the spots, "Bluesman," received a Clio Award. In 1986, a radio spot from the "501 Blues" effort won a Clio in the best song category.
The 1990s marked a new phase for Levi Strauss. Its 501 "Button Fly Report" by film director Spike Lee showed children doing what they do when wearing their 501 jeans. One spot, "Max Drummer," won an award from Advertising Age as the best of 1990. Levi's Loose?a line of loose-fitting jeans?was launched in 1992 with a TV campaign tagged "A loose interpretation of the original."
Also in 1992, Levi Strauss launched its "Women in Motion" campaign, using abstract illustrations of women inspired by the work of the French artist Henri Matisse to demonstrate the fit of its jeans. In 1995, Levi Strauss introduced the "Nice Pants" campaign for its Dockers line. In 1996, Levi's introduced Slates dress pants with a campaign tagged "These are those pants." In less than a year, Slates became a category leader.
In the late 1990s, changing demographics and increased competition from J.C. Penney Co.'s Arizona brand and VF's Lee and Wrangler brands posed a serious challenge to Levi Strauss. Its partnership with agency TBWA/Chiat/Day resulted in several notable campaigns. "Who's Worn Levi's Jeans?" was introduced in May 1998. Other efforts included a new "Hard Jeans" campaign that featured a series of unscripted commercials with young consumers, a first-ever catalog and an online store.
TBWA/Chiat/Day's last work for Levi Strauss included its well-regarded work for women's low-rise jeans, of which the "Belly Button" spot was the most renowned. In January 2002, Levi Strauss moved its $66 million U.S. jeans business out of TBWA/Chiat/Day to the New York office of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Levi's European agency. Bartle Bogle's work for women's low-rise jeans, tagged "dangerously low," did not win the critical acclaim "Belly Button" did.
In November 2002, Levi Strauss tapped hometown shop FCB to handle its new Signature line of jeans, sold through Wal-Mart.
In early 2004, Levi's launched its largest-ever ad campaign, "A Style for Every Story," a Bartle Bogle effort that played off tales from devoted Levi's wearers in print ads featuring photographs by Richard Avedon and in TV spots.
In May 2004, Levi Strauss said it would explore selling its roughly $1.4 billion Dockers casual-pants brand as part of a turnaround effort to stem a seven-year sales decline. The sale would allow the company to focus on its core Levi's line as well as its value-conscious Levi Strauss Signature line.