Iconic Ads: Levi’s – Launderette

When the Laundrette aired in Europe, it sent Levi’s shrink-to-fit denim into a new stratosphere of popularity.

In 1982, BBH was awarded the Levi’s account, taking over a brand and a category that were both in disarray. There was talk that jeans would not be fashionable and fade away.

As a product category linked with counter-culture cool in the 1960s, Levis was viewed as the market leader. Jeans defined generations but not anymore

As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, fragmentation in young culture was a major issue, at least in the United Kingdom. Punk has spawned a slew of new styles of clothing, none of which included jeans.

All of the top artists were from the United Kingdom. Duran Duran, Culture Club, and Spandau Ballet were among the rising stars of British pop culture that favoured other pieces of clothing rather than jeans

America had lost its allure. America was not interesting anymore and lesser with jeans. Due to its American heritage, Levi’s became synonymous with Ronald Reagan, Dinasours of Rock, and chubby foreign tourists. Consumers rated Levi’s 501s unappealing in product evaluations.

However, BBH decided to ignore Levi’s brief to “make advertising we won’t like”. They did not take advertising in a different direction and decided to stick mostly to the strengths of the brand and product

Hegarty told them: You are American, you are the original, you invented the jean. You have got to find a way of talking about it. Value for money had become an important consideration in 1982 when a recession was raging. A pair of well-made jeans is an investment because they’re “workwear.”

“Rivets” in 1982 and “Stitching” in 1983, and “Airport” in 1984 depicted an attempt to smuggle a pair of Levi’s into Soviet Russia were some of the attempts which harped on Levi’s product strengths. The campaigns helped in improving the brand’s equity. But they hardly made an impact on sales

In 1873, the Levi’s had started with the 501s. It carried the unique button fly and shrink to fit material. But unfortunately, it faced the most wrath too in the 70s and 80s.

Levi’s partnered with Coca-Cola and Douwe Egberts to support a novel method of market research. By combining social and personal reasons, Ipsos’ Censydiam was a tool that promised to assist marketers in better understanding the deep-seated human motivations and requirements in their business/ brand.

The results provided insights for the new campaign. Research revealed that Levi’s had a product with distinctive characteristics that should be appreciated — “a common product with specialised attributes” — and that prospective customers wanted to feel like they belonged somewhere.

BBH got to work on putting the insights into action. To get ideas, Hegarty and Barbara Noakes turned to the past, to the era of the 501 and Levi’s when they were hip and fashionable

Fortunately, Hegarty was a child of the denim generation. He also remembered when he couldn’t get his hands on a pair of jeans. He realised that they needed to go back to the time when 501s were great – the 1960s, “they were part of the rebellion, a part of youth culture, and music.”

Having chosen a time and place to evoke, the next step was to demonstrate the product. ‘ The result was The ‘Launderette’ which highlighted the jean’s unique attributes, including the process of stone-washing.

It was a way to instil a sense of self-confidence, inspiration, and empowerment. Hegarty’s goal was to make the 501’s status as the “original jean” important in this context. Merely saying that they are original was not enough, the behaviour/ attitude around it was most important

Hegarty partnered with copywriter Barbara Noakes to create the film. Roger Lyons was given the go-ahead to direct the film.

The film

When heartthrob Nick Kamen stepped into a laundromat on Boxing Day 1985 and stripped down to his boxers in front of shocked onlookers, the viewers in the United Kingdom were dumbfounded.

The silhouette can be seen from all angles when Kamen entered the room. Then there’s the button fly, which is critical. When he pulls down the button fly, he removes the buttons which was a catwalk in disguise, it didn’t appear to be one though.

The campaign’s success was largely due to Kamen’s self-assurance and determination. The act of getting into the laundromat to wash the jeans he was wearing was bold This is what he was saying: he intends to wash his jeans here. The reason he was there was not to be a showboat. He just wanted to wash his jeans – a don’t care, no show-off attitude.

You can see your body’s contours when you wash your 501s because they were marketed unwashed and had a substantial shrinking effect. It’s more than simply a product; it was a product that empowered people. Creating a sense of identity. And Hegarty was aware of this.

And to think that Roger did not want Kamen as the model. He wanted another model who was acting in another Levi advertisement which was an extension of the Laundromat idea. But Hegarty’s opinion prevailed.

The After Effects

501 jeans sales soared 800% after the film was released, and it ushered in decades of legendary advertising for the brand. It was as if nothing had happened. By the end of the 1980s, Levi’s was number one again.

Sales of 501s weren’t the only thing that reaped the benefits.

When the British Advertising Clearance Centre objected to the original screenplay, which had Kamen stripped down to his Y-fronts, it resulted in an estimated increase in sales of boxer shorts.

The music industry benefited too. Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ was a top 10 hit. And it became one of the most popular songs of the decade, a pattern that would continue into the 1990s. However, the two record labels responsible for the songs, Motown and Atlantic, did not view this as an opportunity at the time.

They refused to let them utilise any of the originals. Re-recordings of them were made. To their surprise, they asked if they might utilise the originals after the new releases were a success. it was too late, though

As a result, it became clear to the music industry that an ad featuring your song in it could either relaunch or launch your career.

As a nod to the original ad, the Haus of Strauss, London has developed the Laundrette Dressing Room to recreate the nostalgic atmosphere. There are three other VIP Showrooms in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Johannesburg: Haus of Strauss, London. To keep up with the current styles from our seasonal collections, influencers from the fashion, entertainment, and culture are invited. Guests are welcome to book private one-on-one visits to try on and take home their favourite items in an intimate atmosphere.

While in the Launderette Dressing Room, guests can check their fit in front of three laundromat-sized washing machines that take them back in time to resemble Nick’s setup (minus the audience).

Reference – https://www.marketingweek.com/levis-laundrette-sales-boost/, https://www.levistrauss.com/2020/11/19/levis-laundrette-ad-reignited-the-501/

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