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Ad:Tech SF: Levi Strauss Chases 'Game Changers'

  |  April 23, 2010   |  Comments

The company known for its Levi's and Dockers brands places big bets on big ideas.

After attending ad:tech San Francisco this week, I'm thankful for a few things:

  • Marketers, for the most part, avoided getting mired in the age-old debate over who's more qualified to work on groundbreaking initiatives (boutique digital shops vs. holding companies).

  • Marketers did not obsess over "online" vs. "offline." Instead, they discussed big ideas for marketing campaigns and approaches to improving performance.

  • No one - at least publicly - lamented the quick-changing marketing and media landscape with the arrival of mobile devices like the iPad and geo-location apps like Foursquare; instead marketers were embracing upheaval like an X Game competitor approaching an inverted aerial.

"We have to keep our eyes open. We [marketers] have a tendency to rest on our laurels," said Jaime Cohen Szulc, chief marketing officer for the Levi's brand, during an ad:tech keynote. "Learn what we can learn. It's not about marketing ROI; it's about business game changers," he said, summing up the spirit of the conference.

A day after ad:tech, Levi's launched a "Friend's Store," using a new Facebook tool that lets shoppers see what merchandise their friends like on the brand's e-commerce site. "Now shopping on Levi.com is more social, more personal, more fun," the brand promises its fans. In doing so, Levi is one of the first retailers to take advantage of the social site's decision to syndicate use of the Facebook "Like" button.

At ad:tech, Szulc and another executive from the San Francisco-based company discussed how they're taking a more social approach to marketing. And it's apparently paying off: company revenue totaled $1 billion for the three months ended Feb. 28, 2010, an increase of 9 percent compared to the same period in 2009.

Dockers: Who Wears the Pants?

The Dockers khaki pants brand, part of the Levi Strauss & Co. family, was starting to look tattered in recent years. "In the khaki category - a very massive category - our brand was suffering. It is a leader, but suffering," said Szulc.

Add to that challenge a new marketing landscape. Brands today must be coveted by consumers; brands cannot merely sell to consumers, added Szulc.

So, Dockers' team set out to develop a "disruptive" marketing campaign, "Wear the Pants," that's based on the premise that masculinity is at stake. It included a Super Bowl TV ad featuring about one dozen men marching through a field in their underpants singing, "I wear no pants." The campaign also had a Facebook page and a khakis giveaway.

The results? A total of 640,000 people entered the giveaway. And "Dockers free pants" and "dockers.com/freepants" were among the top searched words on Feb. 7, the day of the Super Bowl, and on Feb. 8.

"More important, [with] "be more masculine" and "wear the pants," the intent is to shape a category. And that's what we've been doing with this campaign," Szulc said.

Levi's: Social at SXSW

For the past nine years, Levi's has sponsored the Fader Fort at the SXSW music fest in Austin, TX. It's an "ultimate free retreat for music fans from morning to night," wrote Missy Lay on The Austin Post's blog last month.

This year, a live stream of concerts was available on both Fader Fort on Facebook and Levi's Facebook page. "It was a way to take what we were doing [at SXSW] and bring it out to the masses and our target audience," said Megan O'Connor, director of digital and social marketing at Levi Strauss & Co.

The results? There were 780,000 live views of the Fader Fort concert. Plus, Levi's now has 286,000 followers on Facebook. According to O'Connor, the number of Levi's fans on Facebook grew by 50 percent over a three-week period.

What did Levi's learn from the experience? According to O'Connor, videos posted on Facebook got far fewer comments than photos. "You're asking more of a consumer [with video]: two minutes versus a 15-second commitment," she said.

When asked about the return on investment for its social efforts, O'Connor said the company has not yet measured that. "I don't know if you can put a value on a photo of a person tattooing a [Levi's] logo on their arm," she said.

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Anna Maria Virzi

Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.

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