Levi’s CMO to marketers: forget traditional ads

As the public takes the wheel of the media it consumes, Levi’s is giving them the keys, said Jamie Cohen Szulc, CMO and SVP of Levi Strauss & Co.

Delivering the keynote address of the Ad:tech San Francisco 2010 conference on April 20, Cohen Szulc encouraged the audience to forget traditional advertising and build consumer experiences in digital channels.

“As the market becomes more fragmented, we want to have more control over the consumer experience but that is difficult,” he said. “Marketers should focus on being disruptive.”

Highlighting the fact that consumers uploaded more content to YouTube in a few months than TV networks created in decades, Cohen Szulc said Levi’s encourages consumers to create content for the brand. The company took this approach with its “Go Forth” campaign, in which the brand positioned itself with “authenticity” because of its history in denim and encouraged consumers to re-imagine what America is about. The campaign included digital programs, such as an interactive Constitution that consumers could “rewrite.” The constantly changing document could be distributed across social networks.

The campaign also included a treasure hunt for $100,000 and a branded road trip documented through a microsite with online videos, blogs and social media feeds.

“It was a refreshed look at Levi’s,” said Cohen Szulc. “It is not about selling a product, it is about being coveted and creating a consumer experience.”

Levi’s Dockers brand took a similar approach to integrated marketing with its “Wear the Pants” campaign. The push included a contest for free pants, which was promoted through social media, e-mail and other online channels. To build awareness, Dockers ran a 30-second TV spot during the Super Bowl, then promoted it on social media. After the Super Bowl airing, the word “Dockers” was the No. 1 and No. 2 most searched term on Google for two days, and sales spiked 240%.

Cohen Szulc also highlighted a Volkswagen GTI campaign, created by AKQA, that only involved an iPhone app. Consumers could post videos of themselves playing the game on YouTube, locate a dealer or enter to win a car. The app was downloaded 4.3 million times.

Cohen Szulc also said that marketers should stop focusing on loyalty, and turn their attention to advocacy.

“Loyalty is very passive,” he said. “I may be loyal and buy products from a brand, but I don’t go out and speak about the brand. Advocacy is active.”

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