Mobile case study: The Levi’s Campaign that Levi’s Didn’t Create

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Instead of telling Chinese consumers what it meant to be “original,” Levi’s took the brave decision to hand over control of its ad creation to its fans, and inspired younger people to create their own version of the “We Are Original” campaign.

Case study summary

• Jeans brand lets its target audience be the source of the brand’s communications

• Partnered with music app Tencent’s QQ music, with songs unlocking Levi’s images as backdrops

• Social element let fans invent their own statements inspired by songs to pair with their Levi’s image, and invited them to share their experiences digitally

• Clickthrough rates on fan-created digital ads were 50 percent higher than display ads

The challenge

Levi’s has always been focused on cultivating its “original” and “cool” image, but Chinese millennials believed the brand was unrelated to them. The fundamental issue for Levi’s was that the brand didn’t try to excite or inspire the younger generation. Indeed, Levi’s had lost its denim leadership edge to rival Lee in China’s lower-tier cities, putting it at a disadvantage for future brand growth.

Levi’s needed to establish true brand recognition amongst China’s younger generation, setting a goal for OMD to connect with and engage millennials to increase sales, particularly in lower-tier cities.

Just like millennials around the world, young Chinese love social media, chat and selfies. Food pictures and fashion posts have been popping up just about everywhere. Looking a bit closer, it has become clear that these engagements aren’t for just for vanity or fun. Each post reflects who these savvy youth are and what makes them unique. That characteristic of expressing originality matches the essence of the Levi’s brand, yet, at the time of this campaign, millennials weren’t relating that aspect of the brand to themselves.

While Levi’s target market is the same globally, in China 45 percent of them expressed their individuality through music, and 45 percent through fashion and style. Levi’s had a clear opportunity to engage and assert the originality of the Levi’s brand rooted in style and music for China’s young generation.

Specifically, Levi’s target audience for this campaign was defined as “Style Seekers” ages 25-34, who were highly involved in fashion and loved being a fashion authority. In addition, the brand wanted to appeal to “Broad Fashion Aspirers” ages 15-24, who typically kept up-to-date by sharing different styles from key opinion leaders.

When Levi’s launched its global ad campaign, “We Are Original” in China, the agency knew it had to persuade Chinese millennials to feel the power of being original for themselves. OMD China’s idea: The Levi’s Campaign that Levi’s Didn’t Create.”

Instead of telling Chinese consumers what it meant to be “original,” the team handed over the reins of ad creation and inspired younger demos to create their own version of the “We Are Original” campaign.

Truly original ads meant making every part of the creative original. From models to copy, and even theme music, Levi’s ads were no longer their ads, but authentic expressions of individuals’ originality.

The product offering was similar to that of previous Levi’s campaigns. But facing a huge brand perception problem amongst Chinese targets, the agency team had to do something different and took the campaign back to the brand’s core, not preaching “original” but actually allowing its target audience to be the source of the brand’s communications.

The solution

Since music presented an experience where target audiences felt most reflective and inspired by originality, the agency partnered with top mobile music app Tencent’s QQ music. Harnessing Tencent’s QQ database, OMD selected millennials’ favorite songs that best embodied Levi’s brand spirit, for example “Having Dreams” or “Flying High.” Once millennials played any of these songs on their app, they could unlock Levi’s “original” images as backdrops to the ad campaign – a media first for China.

What’s more, the agency gave fans the power to invent their own statements about originality inspired by their favorite songs to pair with their Levi’s image, and invited them to share their experiences digitally. Every message became an individual story told through WeChat with an expressive image, original statement or song sent to friends that inspired them to play along.
Offline, the brand invited China’s youth to star in their own Levi’s poster, striking a pose to show their originality. By scanning a QR code on their mobile phones, users could create images and share them socially with their own messages, just like on the QQ music app. Closer to purchase, interactive outdoor ads called for metro passengers and guided newly empowered young fans to visit Levi’s stores.

The results

Giving consumers the chance to actually experience a brand’s essence is much more impactful than telling them to do so. The beauty of this campaign was that it was designed and run by Levi’s target audience. The wave of originality spread faster through peer groups than a regular ad campaign, and coming from millennials themselves it also carried a much more trusted and impactful message. To wit:

• Over 2.6 million Levi’s ads were created by millennials in just two weeks -- plus, the initiative had an additional 2.9 million consumer engagements -- such as likes, forwards, comments and shares.

• Clickthrough rates on fan-created digital ads were 50 percent higher than display ads.
The campaign boosted overall Levi’s sales by 15 percent year-over-year, while traffic to its e-store rose 14 percent (including a 20 percent increase from lower-tier cities), fueling a huge 45 percent annual increase in total online sales.

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