loyalty marketing - jeans edition

Passikoff: Matchless Marketing – Jeans Edition

It’s time to play “Matchless Marketing or Brand Blunder?

Here’s how we play. We ask a question about brands or marketing, and you have 20 seconds to decide whether it was matchless marketing or if it was a brand blunder. One answer only. No equivocations. Decisions of the judges are final. Ready, contestants? Here’s today’s question:

What do Neil Diamond, Nikki Lane, David Bowie, Nirvana, Elton John, Conway Twitty, the Rolling Stones, and Beyoncé have in common?  

(SFX: Ticking clock)

So, players, what have you come up with?  It’s not a riddle, and the answer isn’t “They’re all entertainers.” C’mon, would we ask anything so easy? 

The answer we were looking for is, “They all wrote songs about jeans.” Blue jeans, new jeans, tight fitting jeans, apple bottom jeans, Levii’s jeans, blue jean babies, taper jeans, forever in jeans, and jeans that fit just right. Surprised? Well, perhaps not. 

Jeans (and the denim they’re made of) are part American culture (‘49er gold prospectors, cowboys, James Dean, beatniks, the Fonz), part American fashion (designer brands like Gucci, Versace, Jordache,  Calvin Klein whose Brooke Shields jean ads were banned by ABC and CBS, Gloria Vanderbilt, and luxury labels like Escada, APO, Diesel, True Religion, Brioni, Attolini, and 7 For All Mankind), and without question part American commerce (the current jeans market is estimated to be $27.58 billion). 

Boot cut, skinny, flared, ripped and faded. Stone washed, acid washed, bell bottoms, straight, and low-rise. Even Dad jeans. Wild West or fashion-forward there’s something for everyone. And it turns out they’re everyone’s favorite. Style notwithstanding, they’re the most popular pants-category in history. The average life span for a pair of jeans is 3 to 5 years. On average women own 7 pairs, men 6. Fifty seven percent (57%) of U.S. adults report wearing them regularly. So, there’s a big market for them. And a lot of brands out there for them to wear. 

In the U.S. about 50 majors and 30 niche brands. There are the patriarchs like Levi’s that have been around since 1853. Lee was founded in 1889. Wrangler’s been here since 1904. Then there are the mid-20th century brands – GAP (1969), Gloria Vanderbilt (1976), American Eagle Outfitters (1977), Calvin Klein (1978), and J. Crew (1983). Oh, and the newbie-niche like LA-based Grlfrnd (2016) and Brooklyn-born Still Here (2018) So, quintessentially American, right? 

Well, not entirely. Actually, not at all. The fabric originated in 14th century Genoa, Italy, which in French is, “Gênes.” In Nîmes (France), they manufactured a similar twill fabric, marketed as “de Nîmes,” meaning “from Nîmes.” Similar cloth came from 17th century India, from a city called Dongri. And in the early 19th century, Swiss uniforms were cut from a blue cloth called “blue de Genes.” Thus, both European and Asian roots were nomenclatures for “jeans,” “denim,” “dungarees,” and “blue jeans.”

On May 20, 1873, Levi Strauss and his partner, Jacob Davis, obtained a U.S. patent for putting copper rivets in men’s pants. And while those rivets have become part of the fabric of fashion (no pun intended), they were added for entirely utilitarian purposes to ensure more durable work clothes for laborers and miners – so they didn’t rip at the seams. Levi Strauss (the company) says, “We have been innovating since the birth of the blue jean in 1873,” which is a bit of hyperbole given how long blue jeans have been around and that their actual birthplace was Italy.

But that aside, the Levi Strauss brand does have an amazing history. Worth reading whether you’re a fashionista or not. And we’re second to none in our admiration for the brand. Particularly since consumers ranked them #1 in our most recent Customer Loyalty Engagement Index.

Given loyalty correlates very (very) highly with positive consumer behavior toward a brand, we weren’t surprised that Levi’s net sales in the Americas last year came to just over $3 billion. And they’re looking to boost that by using more of their own stand-alone stores and building new stores to get faster insights into consumer trends and tastes. An early-warning system for the next big consumer-thing. 

Oh, and they want to be seen for something more than their classic 501 jeans and figure their own stores will help shorten the runway to new product introductions. Which should help accelerate product development and delivery, although even having your own store doesn’t guarantee success of a new apparel line. It’s true a brand’s own stores usually allow a brand to manage consumers’ shopping experiences. And to offer customized products where (and when) people are actually shopping. 

So, essentially, it could be like having your own test market before you’re forced to just go with a wholesaler. Which can ultimately cost more than renting retail space and building it out. So, go figure! But as a strategy it’s simple and timeless. Kind of like blue jeans.

So, what’s your final answer? Matchless marketing or brand blunder? In the real world it’s not a game.


Photo by K8 on Unsplash

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