Check it out – BBH US is not going to defend the Levi’s account. Shocked. That’s me. Come on. BBH made Levi’s, Levi’s made BBH US. It was a beautiful relationship for years and now… now it’s gone all Les Miserables.
The same year that BBH UK landed the Levi’s account was the same year that the DeLorean Car factory in Belfast was put into receivership. Nineteen-eighty-two also saw America put an embargo on Libya and the first Double Stuffed Oreo hit the marketplace. Levi’s was not yet a global powerhouse. Sure, Soviet kids wanted the denim, but the brand wasn’t truly global. Levi’s got into some tricky situations later on in the 80s and early 90s, most notably the expensive Olympics sponsorship, an aging marketplace and some bad accounting. Oh and that $1.6 billion leveraged buyout in 1985.
The launch of the Dockers brand in 1986 surely helped them, but so did BBH UK. The agency was smart enough to purchase UK airtime from the nascent MTV. The channel was new at the time and still had no way to separate their signal. What viewers in the UK saw, so did those in Paris, Sweden, etc. for peanuts. And yes, those marvelous ads caused a new craze for the brand. By 1989, international sales were out of this world.
The New York office of Bartle Bogle and Hegarty didn’t open until 1998 with the awesome Cindy Gallop (pictured right) at the helm and Ty Montague as CD. Why not have a US face? It makes sense, although they had a rough start. The agency took London hand-me downs until the New York office picked up the Levi’s account in 2003. Yes, that’s kind of a hand-me down, too. You can be sure that TBWA\Chiat\Day in San Francisco, who was the incumbent, snickered that loss away. Yet, BBH US turned out some stellar planning and creative for the brand (see video above). Despite other shared accounts with their London parent (Johnnie Walker, the World Gold Council and Unilever’s Axe), the Levi’s work brought the agency into the limelight – a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That year, the shop’s revenue doubled to $25 million with clients such as ING, Time Warner and Wenner Media catching the fever of Gallop & Co.
There’s more to that story, but let’s just fast forward to the present. BBH’s worldwide revenue in 2007 was $161M with the U.S. carrying $31M of that. Without Levi’s, the argument could be made that they wouldn’t have weathered the storm. BBH has chosen not to defend their maker? Is it pride or is it just that the agency needs to move on? Fuck reasoning. How are they going to make up for that huge loss?
It’s hard to shake the idea that BBH UK is the stronger creative force these days. Evidence: Levi’s will keep their business in Europe with BBH. We also hear that AXE is getting a bit uncomfortable with the US office, as well.
Yet, what’s more startling is that this is the end of an era, of sorts. It’s just over. Where’s the Kleenex?
More: Levi’s Is In Play