Marketer Jumped at Chance to Be the Jeans Brand in Teen Girl Movie

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The deal: Levi’s landed the coveted role of the jeans in Warner Bros.’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

The result: Levi’s becomes the film’s fifth character and helps the denim brand target young girls.

The magical jeans that unite a quartet of friends in the book The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants didn’t have a brand but that didn’t stop the Warner Bros. film adaptation from turning into an all-out product placement and promotional push for Levi Strauss & Co.'s Levi's brand this summer.
Levi's worked with Ketchum Entertainment Marketing to be the 'Traveling Pants' brand even before the movie got the green light.

Working with Omnicom Group’s Ketchum Entertainment Marketing, a division of public relations giant Ketchum, Levi’s began to hatch a plan for brand integration even before the movie got the green light. From the get-go it was pretty obvious the plot of Ann Brashares’ 2001 young adult best-seller, which spawned a series of follow-ups, was going to be a boon for some lucky denim brand.

A 'rare' product placement

As the story goes, four teen girls find a pair of thrift-store jeans that magically fits them all, despite their different figures, and proves to be the thread that holds them together during their first summer apart. As Julie Meier, vice president at KEM put it, “The jeans are the fifth character in the book. It’s rare to get a placement like that.”

To beat out other denim brands to win that starring role, Levi’s leveraged its retail partnership with Sears and agreed to advertise the movie in Sears’ circular and promote it in Levi’s retail locations. (Ms. Meier wouldn’t disclose the financial terms of the deal.) The Sisterhood promotion appeared in all 860 Sears locations, with point-of-sale displays in the women’s department. Customers who spent more than $24 on Levi’s products were given a free jean applique kit.

Another major selling point for Levi’s, Ms. Meier said, was that Ms. Brashares has been quoted as saying she always envisioned the pants as Levi's. In a May interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Ms. Brashares said, “I love Levi’s, and I had always pictured these pants being Levi’s. But in the book, the pants don’t have a brand.”

Decision was a no-brainer

For the Levi’s brand, the decision was a no-brainer. Not only was the audience for the film the teen girl segment that’s so important to the marketer, but that the script was taken from a known quantity -- the book -- made it a safe bet. “Where we were lucky with this particular program is that it started with books. We were very well aware that the pants are the theme of the book,” Ms. Meier said. “The messaging is love yourself, love your jeans.”

That the brand and vehicle fit is an important principle in whether branded entertainment deals work, said Allen Adamson, managing director at WPP Group's Landor Associates, New York. "The product has to be used in a believable, relevant way," he said. "People have good detectors as to real and what's not real. If it's forced in, you can damage your brand."

Sisterhood opened June 1 in 2,500 theaters and as of this week had grossed $24.5 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co.

While Ketchum was unable to provide any data as to how the placement and promotion affected Levi’s sales, the buzz factor has clearly been strong. A pair of Levi’s with the company’s red tab label appears prominently in the middle of the film’s poster. The brand was mentioned in countless reviews and articles in fashion and entertainment publications including People and USA Today.

Promotional activity

There was a lot of other promotional activity, as Warner Bros. landed support from Procter & Gamble Co., Neutrogena, Random House and PBteen. In addition to routine coverage of the movie release, there was more publicity driven by an eBay auction of jeans designed by the four lead actresses in the film and other celebrities including Charlize Theron and Ashley Judd. P&G’s beinggirl.com and Warner Bros. ran a sweepstakes, giving away trips to the movie premiere and other gifts.

“An opportunity like this doesn’t come along often, where you’ve got a placement that leads to such a natural promotion,” Ms. Meier said. “That’s the most ideal situation when you’re entering into a partnership, that it is this organic and so everyone from day one has felt like it’s a really good fit.”
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