Dockers, Harbaugh, Gruden On 'Dad Pants' Offensive

Dockers has hired Jim Harbaugh, arguably the least nattiest guy in the NFL, and his anguished wife for a funny Father’s Day campaign. And for good measure, the Levi Strauss-owned brand has also tapped former coach and ESPN commentator Jon Gruden to give a Dad-directed pep talk: “You’re somebody’s hero. Dress accordingly.”

Harbaugh, coach of the San Francisco 49s, and Dockers are a perfect fit. For non-football fans, here's the backstory: During the publicity surrounding the NFL playoffs in January, Sarah Harbaugh confessed to local media that she loathes the coach’s signature rumpled pleated khakis. She has even thrown pants out, only to have him replace them with $8 versions he scores at Walmart. That story created a fashion furor greater even than the “Mom Jeans” controversy that has long plagued the Barack Obama presidency. In the months since then, Sarah and Dockers have had time to get into Harbaugh’s pants, so to speak, rehabilitating him to a respectable, flat-front kind of a khakis guy.

The ads feature Sarah in a mock PSA, addressing “a serious condition affecting countless American men: Dad Pants, acutely identified by shapeless, billowing pants that transform casual wear into casualties.” Suddenly, she deadpans, “my husband looked like he hung the curtains from his belt.” Viewers are directed to dockers.com, “to end this tragedy once and for all.” 

“Dockers is an iconic, confident brand, and using humor is a great way to express that confidence,” says Steve Red, president and chief creative officer of Red Tettemer O'Connell + Partners, the Philadelphia-based agency that created the ad. “This really shows that they know who they are and don’t mind making fun of themselves.” 

Adding to the humor, he tells Marketing Daily, is that while Harbaugh is known for his outspoken sideline comments, he’s practically mute in the ads. “We wanted Sarah be the star of the show, to follow along with the PSA format, since this is her cause.”

The second spot, Locker Room, stars Gruden pumping up a roomful of men on the perils and hazards of fatherhood. “You’re tired. You’re Captain Tired,” he says, “And your ship is the ‘It’s 3:00 a.m. Go back to bed!’ … You’re just hired help paid in groin kicks.”

With his characteristic gonzo enthusiasm, he tells them to “Get out there – go to their games and recitals. But don’t embarrass them with corny jokes or Dad Pants.”

Red says it also suits the brand, aimed at those in the 25 to 54 age bracket, that Gruden isn’t exactly sporting an athletic physique. “Like Harbaugh, he is incredibly confident and charismatic. Gruden’s job in this spot is to rally dads, and he does it really well.”

The campaign also invites sharing through the brand's social channels, using the #StopDadPants hashtag. By tagging photos of themselves in stylish britches on Twitter and Instagram, people have a shot at winning a trip to San Francisco and a pair of tickets to a game at Levi's Stadium. The ads are running online, on regional cable buys, in theaters, and on radio.

While Dockers’ parent Levi Strauss & Co. had declining revenues in its most recent results, men’s clothing—especially pants—have been strong sellers. The NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research company, recently reported that while the sales of all men’s apparel grew 5% to $60.8 billion in 2013, pants grew by 12%, to $4.8 billion.

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