Levi's CMO: 'Dance Is A Metaphor For Progress'

Kenny Mitchell may be relatively new to Levi's chief marketing officer position, and TBWA/Chiat/Day may be its new agency. But the first ad campaign under the new regime builds on an old idea: Levi’s is the unofficial uniform of progress.

The campaign takes shape through the eyes of a bored Gen Z audience until music motivates them to jump to their feet and start dancing for a different world. The spot ends by reminding them they’ve got all the power: “The floor is yours.”

As Levi’s started working with TBWA/Chiat/Day, “we began revealing the texture of Levi's story, and this idea that Levi's has been and always will be this unofficial uniform,” Mitchell tells Marketing Daily.

Levi’s have been worn by gold miners in the 1800s, Woodstock attendees or those tearing down the Berlin Wall, and creatives as diverse as Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Beyonce, Pharrell and Bad Bunny. “These are people moving things forward in their world. They are doers. They are folks who are driving progress,” he says.



That led to the brand point of view that movement in the pursuit of progress can inspire people to shake off stagnation.

“Dance is a metaphor for movement and progress,” Mitchell says.

The anthem spot focuses on a young woman and her friends, passively watching TV until music sparks her onto her feet. “She goes from a passive state to moving and doing, and as the floor begins to spin and fall away, she inspires others to do the same.”

Mitchell knows plenty about dance. Levi’s execs are fond of saying everyone has a Levi’s story, and so does he. “I’m a child of hip-hop and was in a breakdancing group. Our crew’s outfit was modeled after Run-DMC, so we had dark-blue denim Levi's,” he says. “It's a brand that I have had a connection to for a very long time.”

He joined Levi’s as CMO about nine months ago, after four years at Snap. He says his mission is to keep the denim giant “in the center of culture, making sure we continue to drive relevance as a global brand and support some of our business ambition of being a brand-led company moving to a D2C focus.”

Mitchell says the spot also contains an Easter egg, featuring an unreleased track from Kaytranada featuring Channel Tres, two young rappers. The campaign will lead to a global casting call to help Levi’s find the next set of doers. “We're leveraging a lot of digital and social platforms to invite people to answer our call,” he says. Levi’s will choose eight to 10 and fly them in to create a long-form music video. That film, he says, will become a campaign capstone, celebrating doers everywhere.

“The beauty of Levi's is that it has been such an iconic brand for such a long time that people have a connection to it,” says Erin Riley, chief executive officer of TBWA/Chiat/Day. “So it’s about focusing on the soul of the brand, but in a very modern way.”

She says music culture and Levi’s go way back, “but we worked closely with the choreography to ensure this was very up-to-date and diverse. The styling has a specific vibe, and there is a personality that we want to get across -- it’s both universal and personal. And we wanted to feature the head-to-toe looks that emphasize Levi's as a denim lifestyle brand.”

While the effort is timed as part of the 10th anniversary of the “Live in Levi's” platform, the launch also comes at a pivotal moment for the company. Michelle Gass, president and chief executive officer, has replaced the outgoing Chip Bergh. And Levi's  s leaning further into the direct channels that have been most successful, even as its wholesale business has faced plenty of challenges.

Creating marketing that works equally well for every space isn’t easy. “I tend to think about the full-on consumer journey and the various touch points,” Mitchell says. Levi’s has more than 3,000 stores and a large ecommerce business. “That’s a big canvas, and we make the customer experience feel as connected and cohesive as possible and bring the brand to life.”

And when its merchandise is sold through other retailers, Levi’s is using shops-within-shops to create the same experience.

Cohesion is also the big push in digital efforts, with stepped-up efforts at value and personalization in CRM.

He says that even amid leadership transitions, Levi’s is as committed as ever to social issues – even potentially polarizing ones, such as voting, LGBTQ rights and gun safety.

“Our values have not changed at all, and we will be consistent with our focus, whether it’s around reproductive rights or sustainability. For instance, we’ve got some voter registration stuff happening at colleges right now,” he says.

Those values link directly to the new campaign. “Whether you are making small personal progress, like little moves to get yourself outside your comfort zone, to political and social changes, we’re inspiring people to move forward.”

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