Levi Finally Pulls the Plug on TBWA

Levi Strauss & Co.’s decision to move its $60 million U.S. account from TBWA\Chiat\Day to Bartle Bogle Hegarty may have coincided with the incumbent taking on conflicting business, but the move has been in the works since last summer, sources said.

Even though Levi’s U.S. president Richard Hanson cited the “closeness” of Adidas when discussing the move with TBWA\C\D and BBH, it is known that the incumbent got his blessing to pitch the $80-100 million athletic-footwear account.

In fact, the company’s public statement that the shift was a strategic move toward a global realignment is only part of the story.

Sources said that the key reason behind the move was that Hanson, who worked with BBH in Europe and became U.S. president last July, has been anxious to work with BBH in this market. BBH in London had already proven its mettle with Hanson, when he was president for the brand of Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Hanson and the shop worked closely on the successful European launch of Engineered Jeans in 2000. “He’s a strong leader. He is a charis matic individual who is at his best when the chips are down,” said BBH chairman Nigel Bogle. “He wants brave work and buys it.” The campaign, which featured the tagline, “Freedom to move,” is credited with reigniting awareness of Levi’s in that market.

Furthermore, BBH’s relationship with Levi’s extends beyond Europe (where it has handled the brand since 1982) to the Asia Pacific region, where the shop’s Singapore office handles ad duties. BBH now handles more than $110 million in Levi’s billings worldwide. (U.S. media buying remains at OMD in New York.)

BBH group account director Sarah Thompson will steer management of the U.S. account, while the creative effort will be led by group creative director Thomas Hayo.

Not surprisingly, the loss of Levi’s has thrown into question the viability of TBWA\C\D’s San Francisco office, where more than half of its 120 staffers worked on the business. With just four accounts left (Sony PlayStation, Starz Encore Group, Callaway Golf Co. and the Wine Market Council), the likelihood of layoffs is great and TBWA may pull the plug altogether, said sources. PlayStation, the largest, may shift back to its original home: the Playa del Rey, Calif., office of TBWA\C\D.

“We haven’t made any decisions regarding the San Francisco office yet,” said Tom Carroll, TBWA’s president of the Americas.