THE MEDIA BUSINESS: Advertising; Can Levi Strauss Extend Its Success With Dockers?
By Stuart Elliott
Published: February 24, 1992
FOR a marketer, changing a successful long-running advertising campaign is always a difficult decision. But Levi Strauss & Company and its agency, Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco, felt the time had come.
Beginning March 3, they will make the first significant changes in their campaign for Dockers apparel since that best-selling line startled consumers in 1987 with unusual television commercials starring casually dressed men engrossed in casually hipconversations.
"To keep the Dockers message fresh, we had to adopt a different position," Bob Siegel, president of the men's wear division at Levi Strauss, said in a telephone interview from San Francisco.
"You can't say the same thing forever," he added, "and we can't afford for people not to pay attention."
As for the timing, said Mike Koelker, executive vice president and corporate director of creative development at Foote, Cone,
"it finally got to the point where if we did another year of this, I don't think anybody would notice."
"It scares the hell out of you to change an enormously successful campaign," he added, particularly one that has grown familiar enough to be featured on an episode of the NBC sitcom "Seinfeld" and to have inspired a parody spot by a rival clothier, Bugle Boy.
"What if the next one doesn't work as well?" he asked.
To prevent that, new television spots, as well as the first Dockers print advertisements, have been carefully conceived to appeal to the men who are already avid buyers of Dockers slacks, shirts, shorts and other items. They are expected to buy $1.5 billion worth in stores this year; total retail sales of Dockers last year, including the newer women's and children's products, exceeded $1.8 billion, out of Levi Strauss's total sales of $4.9 billion.
"Our purpose is to let the consumer who buys Dockers know he has an opportunity to expand his purchases," Mr. Siegel said. To accomplish that, he added, the new ads communicate a message "that Dockers come in many different flavors."
For instance, in one spot, as men silently walk along a city street and sail in a boat, an announcer wryly drawls, "From mocha to khaki, beige to desert sand, tan is a color with a thousand faces, a color that always seems to say, 'Hey, pal, how 'bout me?' " Each spot ends with the multihued theme "Nobody does tan like Dockers," "Nobody does blue like Dockers," and so on.
The announcer supplanting the "guys talking to guys," as Mr. Koelker called the most familiar aspect of the campaign, is the most obvious alteration. Also different is how the men look; instead of an everyday-guy image, they seem more like models, better built, better dressed and better coiffed. That is intended to build a perception of Dockers as dressier and more fashionable, Mr. Siegel said.
Year: Spring/Summer 1992
Models: Scott King and ?
Director: Herb Ritts
Other Ritts Dockers commercials : "Grey", "Tan", "Brown", "Blue", "Black", "Green Shorts", "Tan Shorts", "Blue Shorts"
Dockers advertising had undergone some previous modifications. The initial spots were notorious for their shaky shots of male posteriors and crotches. Those gave way to fluid full-body shots. And "Dockers World" -- a term used by Steve Goldstein, the director of consumer marketing for the Levi Strauss men's wear division, to describe "the mythical place where our Dockers consumer feels comfortable" -- evolved from a competitive, aloof place into friendlier, less judgmental territory.
The new spots will run on cable networks, including CNN and ESPN, as well as on broadcast-network coverage of sports like basketball, football and baseball. The print ads, styled after the spots, will run in magazines like Esquire, Forbes, GQ, Newsweek and Time.
Year: Spring/Summer 1992
Models: Alvin and ?
Ad spending will rise 20 percent from last year, Mr. Siegel said, though he declined to give figures. Estimates of Levi Strauss's annual ad budget for Dockers run from $20 million to $25 million.
And was it, indeed, time for a change, Mr. Siegel was asked.
"There's not a lot of research to make those decisions," he replied. "That's a judgment call you have to make. As a leader, we need to take some risk."