Dockers is on a mission to make khakis cool again. The brand, a unit of jeans maker Levi Strauss & Co., launched a campaign today (Tuesday), touting khakis as must-have work apparel of American men. Dubbed “Wear the Pants,” the effort aims to get men to rediscover khaki pants by positioning them as “masculine” and “versatile.” Ads are accompanied by the text: “Behold the second dawn of man.” Dockers is also trying to inject some life into the category, which has seen sales decline due to the lack of new product and marketing innovation over the last decade, said global marketing vp Jennifer Sey. As a result, Dockers is shaking things up via a new, nine-color khaki line. Sey chatted with Brandweek about the line and supporting ads by Draftfcb, which appear in publications like GQ. Here’s what she had to say:
Brandweek: Why is Dockers bringing khakis back? Did they ever really go away?
Jennifer Sey: The brand certainly hasn’t gone away. We are the share leaders by far. But the category’s been in significant decline. It’s down 12 percent this year alone and it’s been in fairly consistent decline for the last five years. Men are replacing their khakis at about half the rate of their jeans . . . [With the new campaign, we are aiming to position it as] a well-loved and essential item rather than [how it’s perceived now], which is [a pants that’s sold] at a commodity price point, for the most part. We want him to fall in love with khakis again.
BW: Dockers’ ‘Wear the Pants’ campaign encourages men to don khakis. How have society’s notions of masculinity changed? And how did these insights find their way into the campaign?
JS: The first insight was, as the leading khaki brand, we’re the ones to herald the khaki comeback, if you will. One of the things we noticed when we looked at the competitive set was that no one had really done anything that was highly differentiating or made an emotional connection. We started to do some research. In today’s world, men have lost a bit of footing, in part because women have come so far, but we also found a few surprising facts: Eighty-percent of those who suffered unemployment in the last year were men. Women outnumber men in the workforce now. But the most surprising fact of all was that men’s testosterone levels have been dropping by a percentage point a year for the last 20 years. All these factors add to up say, “Wow, men are struggling in today’s world.” [And we, as khaki manufacturers] have not really been talking to them. But men have told us that they are expected to be more sensitive, to do more at home. They are confused about what it means to be a man today. This led us to the pants idea and essentially, the goal is to provide empathy and encouragement, but also a sense of humor and to help define the new modern idea of man, which includes sensitivity, chivalry, ambition, decisiveness, as well as empathy, so we can inspire today’s men to be men.
BW: The khaki category’s in decline, Dockers said, as there’s been no significant new innovation in the last decade or so. Is that because of a lack of new product news, marketing or both?
JS: It’s a combination of both. It does all start with product. We will have new product in the market starting now [a new, nine-color line of casual soft khakis], and we’ll also [innovate in terms of] fit, with an eye towards slimmer and cleaner styles, new color patterns and fabrics. The goal is to get people to think of it as not just a work-only look, but a great casual—or maybe more dressed-up casual—option as well.
BW: Who’s buying khakis nowadays? And, is there a new segment you’re trying to reach?
JS: Our current and very loyal consumers are men in their forties who are fairly traditional in terms of how they dress. They want to look good, but not stand out, and they want to look up-to-date. They value brands because they signal quality. We need to continue to engage that guy, but we need to attract a new consumer. He’s younger, in his thirties, more style-involved, not style-leading, but definitely engaged, and he uses brands to say something about himself—who he is, what he values. He’s currently not that engaged with the category and might not see khakis in a well-loved way, but it’s a big job and that’s why we need to engage him with the category and our brand.
BW: Dockers is returning to the Super Bowl—the first time since 2002. Why so?
JS: It’s the most watched TV event of the year. It’s the ultimate “man day.” It’s a great way to launch this message to men and also to the women that may be buying khakis for men.
BW: Why might this be a good time to introduce a campaign like this? What does the brand have going for it now?
JS: The wind is against our backs a little here. There are fashion signs on the horizon that khakis are coming back. A lot of premium denim brands are showing khaki in their assortment. We’re seeing khakis on the streets in very influential markets in Northern Europe like Stockholm. In this very difficult economic environment, men are not willing to take any risks at work. While they may have been comfortable wearing jeans to work before, not they’re not, and khakis are a great option.