Account Moves: Bartle Bogle tapped to cure Levi's blues

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Phil Marineau, who has barely stopped the unraveling of tattered jeansmaker Levi Strauss & Co., took his first major marketing step last week to salvage the brand.

Levi Strauss shifted its $66 million U.S. jeans account to Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, from TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco. Though the incumbent was surprised by the shift, there had been considerable speculation Bartle Bogle would get the business (AA, Dec. 3). The move was reported first on (QwikFIND aan02p).

"It's about time" embattled Levi Stauss switched agencies, said Harry Bernard, chief marketing officer and partner at Colton Bernard, an apparel consulting firm.

News of the shift came in a phone call from New York from Robert Hanson, president of Levi's North America, to TBWA/Chiat/Day executives in their San Francisco offices across the street from Levi Strauss headquarters as they prepared for a planned presentation of fall 2002 ads.

Mr. Marineau, former president-CEO of PepsiCo's Pepsi-Cola North America, joined Levi Strauss two years ago as president-CEO, and he's been working to improve relations between the apparel marketer and retail customers who often consider it arrogant. Mr. Marineau also has aggressively tried to paint a turnaround picture for credit rating services, with his publicity machine touting numbers such as a drop in sales decline from 13% in 1999 to the current rate of decline of 9%.

continental solution

Mr. Marineau last year turned to Mr. Hanson, a veteran Levi Strauss executive who had turned the brand around in Europe. Now Messrs. Marineau and Hanson have brought in Bartle Bogle, whose London office worked with Mr. Hanson on successes such as Engineered jeans and Sta-Prest jeans. Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day developed a smaller scale TV and print effort for Engineered jeans in 2000, but the style has yet to catch on domestically.

With Bartle Bogle, 49% owned by Bcom3 Group, Mr. Hanson said he will position Levi's as category leader. "We're going to stand for one thing-the source for denim jeans innovation," he said.

Mr. Hanson said he will execute the strategy through a combination of global branding and product innovation. "We've had some evidence of success" with junior women's Superlow jeans, he said.

TBWA/Chiat/Day's ads for Superlow jeans, featuring singing belly buttons, have been the most successful of the litany of ads and tag lines produced over the four years the agency had the account. Those included "Opt. For the Original" and "Make them your own." The agency is handling Levi Strauss' upcoming Super Bowl ad; the marketer has posted three possible Bowl spots on its Web site and will air one based on a consumer online vote.

Irma Zandl, president, the Zandl Group, a youth marketing consultancy, said the popularity of Levi's among young people plummeted 74% from 1996 to 2001, with only 8% citing it as their favorite jean, down from 31% in 1996.

"Fubu is more popular with teen boys than Levi's-it's shocking," she said. "I can't remember when such an iconic brand has fallen like that."

Ms. Zandl said while Bartle Bogle's ads in Europe are "smart, cerebral and quirky," she was uncertain the British ad style would appeal to young Americans.

The account win is a major boost for Bartle Bogle, which opened the New York office in 1998 despite losing a pitch for the jeans account against Levi's agency of 68 years, Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, San Francisco, and the winner, TBWA/Chiat/ Day.

Since then, Bartle Bogle's track record in New York has been lackluster. The agency did a print campaign featuring odd combinations of images, such as an old man holding an alligator, for Reebok, but subsequently lost the account. Its TV spots for Lipton's Sizzle & Stir are scheduled to be dropped.

San Fran Plan

Officials at TBWA/Chiat/Day said the agency has made no decision on plans for the San Francisco office. Other accounts at the office, which has about 90 employees, include Sony PlayStation and the recently won Starz Encore Group, a cable channel. The shop also is expected to be named agency for the Wine Market Council.

A TBWA/Chiat/Day spokesman declined further comment.

Also unannounced is whether Chuck McBride, TBWA/Chiat/ Day's North American creative director, will shift his attention to the agency's recently won $100 million Adidas account; relocate to the Playa del Rey, Calif., office that handles Adidas; or go off to become a director as has been long speculated. Mr. McBride at deadline had not returned phone calls.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' FCB, San Francisco, retains Levi Strauss' Dockers and Slates brands. Mr. Hanson said Omnicom Group's OMD will continue to buy Levi Strauss' broadcast media in the U.S.

contributing: Richard Linnett

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