Loss Is Another Major Blow for San Francisco Ad Community

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Levi Strauss & Co. has parted with Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, its advertising agency of four years, and is handing the business to Bcom3 Group's Bartle Bogle Hegarty, according to two executives close to the situation.

Bartle Bogle, which has a New York office, is Bcom3's European agency. It appears that the account will be handled out of that New York office.

Sales decline
The troubled jeans maker, on a precipitious sales decline since 1996, in 2000 spent $66 million on advertising for its Levi's jeans and apparel products, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. For the first nine months of 2001 spending was $46.4 million.

Two recent events led to speculation that the agency would be dropped.

Talk began when Robert Hanson was named president of Levi's jeans brand in June. Previously,

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Mr. Hanson headed Levi's Dockers division and most recently launched Levi's Engineered Jeans in Europe, where Bartle Bogle was his agency.

Conflict of interest
In addition, TBWA/Chiat/Day has acquired a number of clients that could be viewed as competitors to Levi Strauss. The agency recently won the $100 million global account of athletic apparel and shoe manufacturer Adidas-Salomon. The agency's New York office also handles Kmart Corp., which has a substantial private label jeans line, Route 66.

TBWA/Chiat/Day long has struggled with creative for Levi jeans' brand, running through a number of strategies and executions. "Make Them Your Own" was the most recent campaign tagline.

In 1999, the agency hired Chuck McBride from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., where he had helped shore up the Nike account. Mr. McBride, who heads creative at TBWA/Chiat/Day's San Francisco office and now holds the title of executive creative director for North America, had scored some advertising successes for Levi Strauss when he worked for then-independent Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco. FCB, now part of Interpublic Group of Cos., continues to handle Levi Strauss' Dockers and Slates brands.

Singing belly buttons
Most recently, TBWA/Chiat/Day's singing belly button campaign for Levi's low-cut women's jeans achieved both creative accolades and sales success.

This year, Levi Strauss will make its second appearance in the Super Bowl. The ad shown on the game will be one of three currently posted on its Web site following a consumer vote.

If the account is transferred to Bartle Bogle's New York office, the shift would strike another serious blow to the hard-hit San Francisco advertising community.

The account had been in San Francisco since Levi Strauss started during the Gold Rush of 1849.

A significant portion of another one of the city's pillar accounts, General Motor Corp.'s Saturn, is also in review. Incumbent Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney is defending, while another San Francisco shop, Omnicom's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, is also pitching. The remaining contenders, however, are not in the San Francisco market.

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