As Levi’s prepares to launch its first global advertising campaign, its global chief marketing officer explains how branding means nothing without product innovation.
There is no shame in being ostentatious at streetwear show Bread & Butter Berlin. Big – not small – is definitely beautiful, as brands compete to outdo each other with the most impressive and flamboyant stands.
It’s at one such stand that I wait for Levi’s global chief marketing officer Rebecca Van Dyck. When she’s ready, I’m led away from the nightclub-like environment (it’s 11am) to a small, quiet room, where I’m offered coffee and little toasts with a strawberry on top. Van Dyck declines the toast. “Knowing me, I’ll probably end up with strawberry in my teeth,” says the American, who joined Levi’s in April from Apple, where she led the worldwide marketing and communications strategies for the launches of products including the iPhone and iPad.
Van Dyck was also Nike’s global account manager at ad agency Wieden & Kennedy and is credited with leading Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign. Not a stranger, then, to global brands. And it’s a single, international voice strategy that she wants to bring to Levi’s. On August 9, the denim giant will launch its first global advertising campaign, called ‘Go Forth’.
“It’s extremely exciting to have one voice, one message, and it seems like the right thing to do because our consumer is global,” Van Dyck explains. “We wanted to find out what’s important to young people and we found that they want to create a better world.” Van Dyck is referring to research commissioned by PR firm Van Euro RSCG Worldwide which found that 82% of young people want to change the world, thus inspiring the campaign. “But what I thought was more interesting,” she adds, “was that 85% felt it was their duty to change the world. We share those values so use words like ‘pioneering’ a lot [in the campaign].”
It all sounds very noble, but is it just a lot of fancy marketing speak? How does this ethos translate into the day-to-day running of the Levi’s empire?
Van Dyck points to the brand’s WaterLess jeans, launched for spring 11, which aim to reduce the amount of water it takes to make a pair of jeans. According to Levi’s, the average pair uses 42 litres of water in the finishing process. The WaterLess collection reduces water consumption by an average of 28%.
Go forth and multiply
As for the ‘pioneering’ message, Van Dyck says this is reflected in the first stage of the Go Forth campaign, which was unveiled to the industry the night before we met. In a studio in Berlin, local designers gathered to show guests the art of screen printing – and encouraged us to take part in the process.
From a product perspective, it’s down to menswear merchandising director Christophe Winnock to explain the translation of marketing message to the product. “We have far less product [in the spring 12 collection] because we want to deliver a deeper, more focused collection with storytelling behind it,” he explains in a thick French accent.
The menswear collection is some 15% smaller for spring 12 and by autumn 12 the product teams are to operate ‘as one’, to reflect the marketing strategy. Instead of producing different collections for its traditional European, US and Asian territories, Levi’s will produce just one for all markets.
“There’s a big focus on craftsmanship, too,” Winnock adds. “We’ve upgraded the construction and trimmings on our five-pocket jeans and expanded our fabrications. We’ve always had selvedge denim, but we’ve added five new fabrics [to this range] that are exclusive to Levi’s, by developing them in-house with our suppliers.”
Among these are a pair of black jeans and a pair of petrol grey jeans, which stand out for their classic, clean looks. It certainly looks like a response from Levi’s to the domination of chinos over jeans, seen both at Pitti Uomo in June and at Bread & Butter. “Yes, we are responding to that,” says Winnock. The spring 12 range features eight styles of chinos, double the amount of the year before, in colours including lilac and sorbet green.
But Winnock is confident that jeans will also do well for spring 12 and backs Levi’s new 510 skinny style as a best- seller.
Back to the marketing campaign, Van Dyck explains that the medium with which to deliver it is vital to its success. Go Forth will launch on Facebook, ahead of cinema, print and outdoor campaigns. “The intention is to have a dialogue,” Van Dyck explains. “It will be launched in one day in 19 countries. People can share it, they can talk about it.”
Not that she thinks traditional advertising mediums are dead. “It’s the message that’s important, that dictates the medium. TV, print – they’re still massively important.”
And with the competition to stand out at Bread & Butter so fierce, not to mention a move away in terms of trends from the exhibiting brands’ core denim product, is the marketing more important than the collections?
“You have to take my answer with a pinch of salt,” she jokes, aware that her enviable marketing background may influence her answer. “A strong brand with a strong sense of self is always important and even more so when we’re surrounded by the clutter as we are here,” she adds, waving her arm towards the expanse of Bread & Butter. “But it means nothing without product innovation.”
2011 Global chief marketing officer, Levi’s
2007 Senior director worldwide marketing & communications, Apple
1994-2006 Nike global account director, Wieden & Kennedy
1992 Account executive, Chiat/Day NY