Walking the talk: Levi’s vs. Etsy

Two contrasting stories of brand authenticity today. In this month’s Contagious magazine, the opening editorial talks about Levi’s attempt to lever its heritage through its Go Forth campaign:

Levi’s is just one of many large, lumbering American brands … that have returned to their roots for succour. The country was built on honest labour and the pioneer spirit and there seems to be a hankering for that simpler golden age of manufacturing, artisanship and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

Levi's Go Forth Campaign

Creative review have a good run-down of the campaign:

The campaign will run across TV, print, and digital (with the website launching tomorrow) and, according to executive creative director Susan Hoffman, wants to pay homage to Levi’s history, “but also to refresh and reinvent the idea of a pioneering spirit for the times in which we live”. These times are of course that of a recession and the spots feature a manifesto suggesting that one of the answers is to abandon suits and make a return to good ol’ fashioned hard graft (presumably done while wearing Levi’s jeans) – “I am the new American pioneer, looking forward, never back,” it states. “No longer content to wait for better times… I will work for better times. Cause no one built this country in suits.” The two TV spots continue in a similar vein, featuring works by US poet Walt Whitman.

It’s disappointing that W+K, of all agencies, should come up with a campaign so hollow, so desperate to be of the moment, yet lacking any real substance. Levi’s may feel that their brand is one of graft, pioneering sprit and God Bless America, but the reality (over here at least) is that today, there brand says, ‘high street jeans’, ‘memorable ads’, ‘cool music’, maybe a bit of ‘wild west’ or even ‘Nick Kamen‘, depending on how old you are. Not a bad place to be, of course, but a long way from the story they’re trying to tell in this campaign.

If Levi’s are serious about re-connecting with their heritage, then more drastic action is needed. I’ll give them two ideas for free:

  1. In Brighton, the Levi’s store is in Churchill Square shopping centre, sandwiched between Footlocker, H Samuel, the Disney Store, etc. Great for footfall, but Levi’s don’t need footfall – they can shift the product through any reseller – what they need is an authentic brand experience.

Churchill Square Shopping Centre

Churchill Square Shopping Centre by Robert Hunt, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

How about shifting the brand stores to locations that reflect the pioneering spirit of the locality? In Brighton, that might be the original fishing industry. They even have beautiful ‘heritage’ retail spaces under the arches on the sea-front.

  1. Or if they really want to align themselves with the grubby, recessionary America of their ads (strangely populated by attractive models with their tops off), how about shifting back production of their jeans to that great country? Revolutionary.

Contrast is provided by this post on Swissmiss: Tina Roth Eisenberg visits the NYC headquarters of Etsy, the craft auction website. Their working space looks great of course, but what really struck me is that authenticity goes to the heart of their workplace:

Not only do they have a fulltime chef(!), they also bought all their furniture and decoration off Etsy. What struck me is that their office is a 100% true to their brand. The office maintains the handmade feel of the products they carry. Impressive.

Etsy HQ, NYC

All brands tell stories, but some live those stories. They express them through their product design, manufacturing, working environments, staff, retail experience, customer support, brand communities, and advertising. Those brands have strength, purpose and focus. They attract loyal fans and have the clarity of vision to steer their way through changing times and competitive pressures. Levi’s had that once; it’s time they re-discovered it.