Jean Genie

“I figured it up once,” Thomas Hayo says, kicking off his slip-on shoes and tucking his feet into the cushions of his office couch. “I’ve had two days off since January.” From the moment BBH was awarded the Levi’s account, the group creative director has spent days, nights and weekends in his office, now known as the “Levi’s room.”

“It was ridiculous. We got the account with all the ad and retail dates set, so we didn’t have the choice but to move quickly and understand the brand right away,” says Hayo, who leads a team of up to 15 creatives shaping all of Levi’s marketing and communications, from sales tags to store environments. “It’s important that [each component] works hand in hand—that’s why it’s so consuming.”

The 30-year-old German native is “the perfect guy” for the job, says Kevin McKeon. “He knows all the fashion models, he’s into the hippest stuff, the latest clubs. So there are a lot of good-looking girls at his parties—which he loves.”

Hundreds of photographs of models decorate Hayo’s office, which he shares with group creative director William Gelner, along with a clutter of art and photo books. Hayo says the models are “inspiration” for next year’s spring effort.

BBH’s first work for Levi’s, touting its Low Rise Jeans, broke on TV last week and in print last month. The print campaign features down-and-out settings, such as an underground garage, and the spots extend the danger motif. In one television ad, a woman breaks into a chop shop to steal back her stolen car. Hayo is just as interested in giving the brand a sheen of sexy rebellion as in playing up its heritage. “You can’t solely rely on the history,” he says. “You have to build on that.”

Hayo came over to BBH from J. Walter Thompson three years ago. His reel ranges from the over-the-top silliness of the Lipton Sizzle & Stir spots that cast TV stars in family roles to the heartbreaking pro bono work for Feed the Children, showing a mother making her kids ketchup soup. “Slackers,” from Raisin Bran Crunch’s “Breakfast is back” campaign out of JWT, won Hayo a gold Lion in 1999.

Along with his downtown sensibilities, Hayo also has an affable demeanor well suited to Levi’s, which McKeon terms a “very demanding” client. “Thomas has the perfect temperament for the client: patient,” he says. “They like a lot of collaboration. Thomas has a really good bedside manner with clients who like to be involved.”

Hayo’s team is now at work on the spring effort, which will introduce Levi’s redesigned signature jeans. It will be “the most important campaign BBH will do for us,” says Robert Hanson, Levi’s brand president, USA. The work will play up the design elements that originated with the brand—the red tab, copper rivets and back-pocket stitching. It’s all part of a push to recover slumping sales, which declined from a 1996 peak of $7.1 billion to $3 billion last year.

“To help Levi’s reclaim the territory they lost, the communications just has to feel right,” says Hayo. “Hitting the right tone—the visual language—is really important. It’s not scientific. It’s something you feel.” Stay tuned.