Levi’s’ Lame Advertising Campaign: Provocative and Pathetic

Levi’s current brand advertising and communication are fabulous examples of ‘what not to do.’

Here’s a classic case of an advertiser and their agency who are so desperately trying to “break through the clutter,” that they forgot that good advertising is supposed to sell more stuff and enhance the brand’s appeal. But wait, the concurrent viral ‘Unbutton Your Beast’ campaign is even worse. Unbutton Your Beast Both communication efforts give the consumer absolutely no performance or emotional reason to go buy a pair of Levi’s. And they do nothing to enhance the brand’s image, and quite a lot to tarnish it instead. What’s the message? Levi’s is for amorous pathological liars? Millions of dollars gone badly astray. Meanwhile, Levi’s reports disappointing sales and profit performance globally, and in particular, North America. Cause and effect? You bet.

Here’s the avoidable trap that Levi’s has succumbed to: financial pressures put the company in a panicky quandry about ‘what should we do?!’ which makes decisionmakers forget to be strategic. Levi’s should be continuing to reinforce its fabulous brand with advertising that reminds target consumers to buy their better jeans. The advertising objective has to be to drive sales growth and enhance the brand image. Clearly that’s lost here. Rather, it looks like they succumbed to underestimating the sensibilities of their targeted teen and young adult consumers and tried to be ‘provocative’ or ‘break through the clutter.’ Tragically, at the expense of the important jobs of selling more jeans or enhancing the brand.

It’s an unnecessary lapse of judgement that can easily be fixed. First, Levi’s needs to better understand its brand equities, target consumers’ needs, and what they desire in their next jeans purchase. Then they need to better determine and articulate their advertising objective (e.g. market share growth), which always trumps being provocative. This is the critical foundation to working more effectively with their advertising agency to request, evaluate, and ultimately get effective advertising.

May our beloved brand, Levi’s, quickly replace these horrific ads with marketing communication that respects the brands’ rich heritage, quality, and loyal consumers.

Lessons learned:
1. Always have a clear understanding of your brand’s distinct equities, benefits, and marketing communication objectives, so you can adequately evaluate and coach potential marketing campaigns. This clarity of purpose becomes especially critical when the brand is in transition or decline.
2. Relentlessly seek marketing communication that drives sales and improves the brand image. Don’t get seduced or distracted with ‘how’ descriptors like humor, coolness, and breakthrough the clutter. Sell more stuff; enhance brand image.
3. Objectively track the effectiveness of your campaign on critical measures like % sales growth and market share growth. Don’t get snowed by improvement in tertiary measurements like ‘advertising likability among X segment,’ or even ‘website visits.’ Keep your eye on the sales performance and marketing return-on-investment results.

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