Levi's Fits Its Ads to the Web

The classic jeans marketer is hoping its new Net-exclusive ad campaign will give it a leg up on the competition

For decades, the medium has helped define the advertising message. Billboards gave rise to the big and the bold. Radio helped usher in the cool and conversational ad message. And with television, advertisers got access to all the tools of video, but they pretty much stuck to using them in 30-second spots.

Now marketers such as Levi Strauss are experimenting with the fledgling tableau of the Internet and coming up with new kinds of advertising. They're discovering that developing video campaigns for the Web is an entirely different craft.

Web Debut

The privately held jeans company just completed a series of six video-based ads that were shot exclusively for the Web. The campaign will debut on Nov. 1 on Web sites such as News Corp.'s MySpace (NWS), Microsoft's MSN (MSFT), and RollingStone.com. BusinessWeek.com got an exclusive look at the campaign, which is known as "Fit."

The ads show how marketers are developing new ways of using video as they put more money into the Web. "In the past, we have repurposed video from TV and used it on the Web. But that is not the most compelling use of the Web for consumers," says Patrice Varni, director of Internet marketing for Levi Strauss.

TV ads are often filled with action and make use of fast-paced editing techniques. Onlne ads must walk a fine line, according to Sharon Greenwood, creative director at Avenue A/Razorfish (AQNT), the interactive agency that developed the campaign for Levi's. They must be engaging and compelling, yet they must respect the fact that Internet users aren't visiting sites to look at ads. They are there for other reasons. They can be easily turned off by aggressive ads, and they have tremendous control over the ads that they see.

Tight Competition

Online marketing is crucial for Levi Strauss, which is struggling with falling sales in a competitive market. Profits are up, thanks to cost-cutting. But sales are floundering (see BusinessWeek.com, 12/15/03, "Commentary: Lessons from a Faded Levi Strauss"). The famous brand faces competition from rivals such as Seven for All Mankind (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/29/05, "Bear Stearns Tries on Shoes").

The new Levi's ads, with their white backgrounds, exude calm. There's no audio, and just one or two characters in each ad.

"The concept is fit, how it looks on the body, how it moves on the body. It's hard to get that when looking at a static image. By using video, you can see the person taking everyday actions, and see how the product moves with them and fits into their life," Greenwood says. Levi has a long history of experimenting online (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/5/05, "Levi's 501 Films Make Ads Worth Watching").

These are long, vertical banner ads that make use of streaming video and a few interactive features, such as product information that pops up when a user rolls his mouse over a pair of jeans. But the ads, which give the Web surfer a voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of hip, young people dancing and hanging out, catch the eye as well.

IPod Style

The ads promote two styles of jeans, the popular slim-fitting cut and a new line of Redwire DLX jeans that are designed for iPod users. The 30-second vignettes feature a man or a woman going through ordinary routines of life, such as getting ready to go out to meet friends or dancing with headphones on.

Four of the ads feature a lone man or woman wearing one of three styles—Slim Straight 514 for guys, Skinny 503 for gals, or Redwire DLX for both guys and gals. There are two holiday ads that feature a man and a woman together, one for the slim-fitting jeans and one for the iPod style. The DLX ads feature a character dancing, while the 503 and 514 ads focus on a character walking around or getting ready to meet friends.

The ads are distinguished from TV advertising in several ways. Besides the calm tone and lack of audio, there are interactive elements that allow users to get more information about the iPod features by clicking on clearly marked parts of the jeans. Viewers who click on the ads can be shown additional video, something that isn't possible in a TV ad.

The video was composed with the Web page in mind. The ads were shot by placing a wide-angle, high-definition video camera on its side. That created a tall, narrow frame well suited to the "skyscraper" style of banner ad, according to Jeremy Lockhorn, director of emerging media and video innovation at Avenue A.

Smaller Budgets

Online video must be shot on a much tighter budget than TV video ads, according to Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of denou, an experimental ad agency owned by Publicis (PUB). "A typical TV ad costs $300,000," Tobaccowala said. "You can justify that because you can reach 20 million viewers by purchasing a single prime-time ad. But I would have to buy all the ads on YouTube for an entire day," he said.

Lockhorn wouldn't say how much the new Levi's campaign cost, but he said the production costs were much lower than TV. Levi Strauss executives certainly believe the online investment is worthwhile. Varni said the company doubled its online marketing budget this year, although she declined to say how much money goes into online advertising or the total budget. And as spending increases, online video is emerging as a medium of its own.

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