SOURCE: NEW YORK TIMES
GENERATION Y. Generation O (for Obama). Millennials. Echo boomers. Call them what you will, the tens of millions of Americans in their teens and 20s compose a market as hard for advertisers to figure out as it is alluring and lucrative.
Along comes Levi Strauss & Company with a campaign for its flagship Levi’s brand, hoping to appeal to those younger consumers with an ambitious call to arms: “Go forth.”
The campaign, which begins Wednesday, will include commercials on television, online and in movie theaters; print advertisements; outdoor and transit signs and posters; social media sites like Facebook; event marketing; and a contest on a section of the brand’s own Web site (levi.com/goforth).
The campaign is meant to buff the image of the Levi’s brand as much as sell products like 501 button-fly jeans. The hope is that “Go forth” will resonate with young America today the same way that campaigns like “501 blues” and “501 U.S.A.” successfully appealed to a generation two decades ago.
The “Go forth” campaign is replete with Americana imagery, in keeping with research indicating that teenagers and 20-somethings are patriotic and optimistic about the United States. Those elements include the poetry of Walt Whitman, flags, paeans to the pioneering spirit, declarations of independence, salutes to hard work and, in the star-spangled tradition of Madison Avenue, copious amounts of nubile flesh.
The campaign is the first work for the Levi’s brand from Wieden & Kennedy in Portland, Ore. In December, the agency became the brand’s creative agency in the United States, where Levi Strauss spends about $80 million a year on advertising. The assignment had previously been handled by the New York office of Bartle Bogle Hegarty; other offices of Bartle Bogle continue to create campaigns for Levi’s in markets like Europe.
The approach of the campaign demonstrates the growing interest among marketers in presenting their products to hard-pressed consumers as genuine enough to merit purchasing during a recession.
The goal is to deliver “the authenticity, and the price, the customer wants,” said Wally Olins, chairman of Saffron, a corporate image and brand consulting company.
“A brand is worth what you pay for it,” he added.
At Levi Strauss, based in San Francisco, Doug Sweeny, vice president for Levi’s brand marketing, said the battle cry was to determine “how do we connect this 150-year-old brand with what is happening in the youth culture today.”
The answer, Mr. Sweeny said, was to invoke the heritage of the brand, which dates to the California gold rush, by describing 501 jeans as “the uniform of common sense,” while celebrating the images and voices of contemporary youth.
The target audience for the campaign is young men ages 18 to 34, he added, with “the sweet spot the 22-year-old guys getting their first jobs out of college” — or not getting those jobs, because of the economy.
“They’re realists; they understand the challenge,” Mr. Sweeny said of young Americans now. “They’re optimistic about the future, they can project forward,” he added. “We found that really powerful and tried to evoke it in the campaign.”
For example, ads scheduled to run this week in newspapers — alongside or near reprints of the Declaration of Independence for the Fourth of July — will echo the style of help-wanted classifieds in seeking “independent minds for a small writing project with long-term publishing possibilities.”
“Must have talent for revolutionary thinking,” the ads continue. “Rabble-rousing experience a plus.”
On the Levi’s Web site, young computer users will be asked to “take up your pen, you general of the new revolution” and contribute to “the New Declaration of the United States of America.”
Print ads will show a young man, clad only in a pair of Levi’s, running into the surf under the words “Strike up for the new world.”
And the contest that is part of the campaign is called The New Americans: A Portrait of a Country. Consumers will be invited to upload “Your words. Your pictures. Your stories of today’s America.”
Wieden & Kennedy was selected for the assignment, Mr. Sweeny said, because of its “track record for tapping into” popular culture for brands aimed at younger consumers like Nike.
The campaign ought to “put us back on the road to creating groundbreaking work,” he added.
There is another tricky task that confronts the agency, described by Tyler Whisnand, creative director on the Levi’s account, as having the campaign come across as confident without “making ourselves sound too proud.”
The balancing act is achieved by grounding the ads in “a utilitarian and humble place,” Mr. Whisnand said, reflecting how the Levi’s brand is “not superexpensive jeans” so it can address issues like “reinstilling the American work ethic.”
That is seen in ads featuring phrases like “Will work for better times,” “501. When there is work to be done” and “Tough as your spirit,” as well as those saluting 501 jeans as “the uniform of common sense.”
The first two commercials are from two young directors, M. Blash and Cary Fukunaga. The print and outdoor ads were shot by the young photographer Ryan McGinley.
Phrases in the print ads suggest an aesthetic grounded in common sense during tough times.