The end of a riveting tale – BBH resigns Levi’s account

July 15, 2010

It’s probably entirely coincidental that BBH’s resignation of the Levi’s account, which the agency serviced with distinction for 28 years, surfaced about the same time as the jeans manufacturer’s second quarter financial results. A constructive coincidence, all the same. If not exactly dire, the results graphically illustrate how far down in the world the Levi’s brand has come: the company compounded a multi-million dollar loss.

In its day – 15 to 20 years ago – Levi’s was a sobriquet for jeans, at a time when everyone of consequence thought it cool to wear jeans. Now they don’t. Or if they do, it’s 7 For All Mankind for upmarket, Gap for downmarket and Diesel for youff – with Levi’s perched somewhere uncomfortably in between. The market for nostalgic Americana has vanished, probably for ever.

Levi’s iconic status arose, in business terms, out of a structural imbalance. The company’s own retail presence was extremely weak outside the USA – even today it does not own all its outlets, leading to an impression of inconsistency. Advertising supplied the deficit, literally driving people into the shops to buy the stuff. That’s a relatively unusual situation in the rag trade; even more unusual is the idea of trusting the agency’s judgement in these matters. But Levi’s did, with astonishingly productive consequences.

You can view BBH’s contribution as a number of discrete, highly visual campaigns – from Launderette, Swimmer through to the Flat Eric vehicle and beyond. Everyone has their favourite. The magical insight, however, was not so much what they looked like, but what they sounded like. The estates of, among others, Marvyn Gaye, Eddie Cochrane, Sam Cooke and Dinah Washington (Mad About the Boy) have every reason to be grateful to BBH. A few years later, in the mid-nineties, the agency moved on from resurrecting the fortunes of dead artists to making the fortunes of new ones, such as Babylon Zoo in “Spaceman”  and Mr Oizo in “Flat Beat”.

Latterly, however, Levi’s seems to have lost faith in advertising and BBH in Levi’s. It’s not just that the jeans brand is becoming more penny-pinching as it tries to cope with commoditisation; BBH has, these past two years, found it a great deal more difficult (I understand) to get its creative proposals accepted. Even so, it must have been with a heavy heart that Nigel Bogle, BBH group chief executive, composed the letter firing one of his original, and signature, clients.

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