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Introduction    2006   

Levi's Case History


While the term “metrosexual” slipped easily into the common vernacular, the actual details of being one didn’t slip as easily into the lives of most young men. It wasn’t just the host of new rituals—from “manscaping” to moisturizing—that suddenly seemed to be expected of them, it was the confusion of choices that awaited them when purchasing what used to be regarded as standard items.

Take blue jeans, for example. Spilling over from the multi-million dollar women’s market, high end jeans for me, with their pre-torn, pre-worn finishes and brightly decorated back pockets were all the rage at most upscale clothing stores. Turning what used to be a quick and easy purchase into a study in confusion and intimidation.

Levi’s 501, the classic blue jean had seen their cachet go down as the flood of new “designer denim” jeans—often priced upwards of $150—hit the market. Levi’s needed to try to reconnect with the target and sensed an opportunity in young men’s dissatisfaction with the whole “metrosexual” movement.

“When we talked to young men, we kept hearing the same thing over and over,” said Mark Strong, General Manager at TAG, a division of Interpublic’s McCann-Erickson. “Their lives were just becoming too complicated. Everything suddenly had options and standards that they’d never heard of. They wanted less complication in their lives, which were complicated enough already.”

To bolster this observation, the team from TAG went out and talked with young men in the demographic. Part of the exercise was to ask them to make mini-documentaries about their lives. And here again, the whole idea of how complicated their lives felt was front and center. From dating to dressing to just ordering a cup of coffee, they were faced with a wealth of choices. The desire to uncomplicate was a strong one.

And so a strategy was born.

“Uncomplicate” worked for Levi’s 501 because the jeans were indeed the classic blue jeans, the only brand that could lay claim to the mantle of authenticity.  It now fell to agency to bring that strategy alive.

“We wanted to do something on the web because that was the best place to reach these guys,” says Strong. “We wanted something that would talk to them, not at them.” The goal was to get an online conversation going about the changes in men’s lives and to make Levi’s 501s a part of that conversation.

To help them achieve this goal, the creative team--executive creative director and art director Craig Markus and copywriter Shalom Auslander-- turned to Campfire Pictures, a content production company known for its online videos for Audi, among others. Working on a limited budget, Campfire gave two filmmakers the opportunity to interpret the idea of “life uncomplicated” and then posted the films online to start the conversation.  The first film featured a dog overwhelmed by the pressures of the metrosexual lifestyle, while the second featured a GI Joe doll in a “World Gone Pretty” where the hero suffers the indignities of modern living (chest hair waxing, striped shirts, “no carb” beer) before rebelling and running home, nude, to put on his favorite pair of 501s.)

To publicize the videos and continue the conversation, the team, working with Campfire, employed a series of targeted guerilla efforts. On the day the web site launched, unbranded Polaroid photos featuring screen grabs from one of the Web films and a mysterious hand-written url at the bottom were left in CD racks, coffee shops, bars and other places that twentysomethings were sure to find them. The idea was to leverage people’s voyeuristic tendencies and to jumpstart the word-of-mouth campaign.

At the same time, a store decal appeared in Levi’s stores throughout the US, offering a free t-shirt to anyone who bought two pairs of 501s. The t-shirt contained a slogan that further brought the idea of “uncomplicate” to life, with lines like “Hair: Shampoo & Conditioner. Stylist: Me.”

Four days after the web site and first video went live, the team launched a blog from the film’s director, where he was able to talk about the shoot and where viewers could link to the videos. The positioning of the blog allowed Levi’s to get the Uncomplicate message into the blogosphere environment, where conversations happen naturally and where Levi’s could become part of the conversation.

Customized editorial (with links) on MSNBC.com helped to further publicize the film, as did provocative  wild postings on the streets of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In addition, 80,000 coffee cups with statements about the need to uncomplicate were distributed on college campuses throughout the New York metropolitan area.

The entire process—from the launch of the first film to the appearance of the second filmmakers blog—took 10 days. The site itself was up for just three months. “We didn’t want this to linger,” Strong notes. “And because we weren’t supporting it with any sort of ad messaging, traffic dropped off sharply, which had always been our intention.”

The campaign, which was awarded a Gold Medallion in the multimedia category at the prestigious Advertising and Marketing Effectiveness (AME) award show, proved to be very successful and is a sure-to-be-studied example of how to properly harness the power of the internet to reinvigorate a brand.

“Uncomplicate” generated over 62 million viewer impressions, with over 200,000 interested, engaged consumers watching the web films in the brief time they were up. But more than that, the campaign created countless unpaid conversations about Levi’s, both by word-of-mouth and by positive mentions across the blogosphere. The widely-read ad industry blog “American Copywriter” to give but one example, had this to say about it:

I think Levi's "World Gone Pretty" is freakin' fantastic. Seriously. It's an absolute, total, way-out-of-the-park home run. The piece nails the brand's "authenticity."

Folks, this is a supreme example of what the online medium can do. The extra story-telling you're allowed here, which, I think, would likely be too expensive to do in broadcast, makes a huge world of difference. You're not just intrigued. You're immersed. On the other hand, this isn't a long, drawn out waste of my time with a tenuous payoff like some internet "films" out there.

Positive spin like this helped to make Levi’s 501 hip and relevant to the target audience. What’s more it was done without the big budgets so often associated with such efforts. And while Strong is contractually prohibited from providing actual sales figures, he was allowed to say that the client “was very happy” with the results.

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