Quiet Launch for New Levi’s Line

Jeans maker to rely on in-store ads to market discount brand

Levi Strauss & Co. will roll out its Signature discount line in Wal-Mart stores across the country next month with a strategy that depends almost exclusively on in-store advertising.

The jeans, unveiled at a Wal-Mart shareholders’ meeting two weeks ago, will be launched quietly in all 2,982 stores by July 15 with almost no ad support. The intent is to keep Signature from cannibalizing the more expensive Levi’s brands, sources said. Signature jeans, priced below $23, will not have the red tab but will bear the Levi’s name.

“Unless people are going to run around looking at people’s behinds, I truly doubt this is a significant point of differentiation,” said Harry Bernard, vp and chief marketing officer of retail consultancy Colton Bernard in San Francisco. “When you tumble from $7 billion in sales [in 1996] to just over $4 billion [in 2002], you have to do something.”

A Levi’s rep declined comment.

The client said in October when it unveiled Signature that it would invest $80 million in the line, but only a fraction—about $2 million—is being spent on ads, sources said. (In all, Levi Strauss spent more than $100 million last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.)

The line will be accompanied by marketing collateral from Bay Area retail specialist B.A.R.C. Communications. The creative concept for the in-store materials—a leather-look border, black-and-white photos and retro typefaces—was devised by Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, which handles Levi’s Dockers. FCB declined comment on whether it would create more Signature ads.