Levi's has taken an unusual action that demonstrates the importance of the international market to the very American maker of jeans.
The denim giant is expanding its Asia-only brand, dENiZEN, with a countrywide push in India. Aaron Boey, president of Levi Strauss & Co. Asia-Pacific, told the Times of India that the company "started test marketing the brand in India and China simultaneously last year and now India is the first market where the brand is going national."
The dENiZEN brand was introduced last August in China, India, Korea (which has been running a dENiZEN dance contest), Pakistan and Singapore. Now ready for primetime in Asia with a serious marketing push by Levi Strauss, dENiZEN will replace the company's Signature denim brand internationally, although Signature will remain in the US market.
"Unlike Signature," said Boey, "Denizen's brand proposition is based on consumer insights from outside the US — from key markets of India and China. ... dENiZEN is in a much better position to work as a global brand." In fact, the dENiZEN brand will be sold in the US and Mexico this summer, but only in Target stores.
Boey said that India and China will be "key markets for both Levi's and dENiZEN. ... We expect to strengthen our leadership position in the affordable category [in India] through the dENiZEN brand in the price band of Rs 799 - 1,499 [rupees]. There are new consumers trading up all the time in emerging markets like India and the aim is to get consumers who by unbranded jeans at Rs 399 - 499 price points to upgrade to the dENiZEN brand."
To promote the dENiZEN brand to India's hip young things, Levi's has hired "eight 'denizens' from all over the country, all of who are denim lovers, to become our brand ambassadors," according to Sanjay Purohit, Managing Director of Levi Strauss India.
The group, which has morphed from the "dENiZEN 10" to the "dENiZEN 8," consists of a plugged-in group of 18 to 28-year-old influencers from various walks of life, including Bollywood actor Imran Khan, an apps developer, a media planner, a property consultant, a student and a writer. Purohit says "the brand has them activated on the social media space. They blog about the brand and how the brand makes them feel."
In addition to reaching young trend-setters via social media and blogging, the dENiZEN brand launch in India will include online and social marketing, outdoor media, radio and in-store advertising, and TV spots.
A television campaign is expected to begin within the next several months, while a user-generated contest, called Start Ups, is inviting the public to submit their creative ideas by July 31st, with the winner selected by popular vote; the prize includes becoming a new "face of dENiZEN."
As Levi Strauss ramps up its first non-Levi's global brand in dENiZEN, it's also shoring up its brand image internationally with a new corporate citizenship commitment to ethical labor practices in local markets where its apparel is manufactured.
In a move designed to catapult Levi Strauss into the position of a global leader in apparel industry employment practices, the company just announced a new "Terms of Engagement" for its global supply chain, moving beyond compliance to help improve the lives of workers in factories around the world.
Now Levi Strauss will require its contract factories to help make employees' lives better by supporting programs for their workers that align with UN Millennium Development goals.
In announcing the Terms of Engagement, Levi Strauss CEO and President John Anderson said, "We are proposing a new apparel industry standard of social, economic, and environmental sustainability that focuses on improving workers' lives." He added, "While we've made progress in a number of areas over twenty years, the hard truth is that we haven't made enough progress on improving the everyday lives of the people who make our products."
Clearly, Levi Strauss is taking actions to ensure that consumers and investors recognize that it's truly a global brand — one that wants to make its denim #1, to be sure, but also one with a commitment to enriching and advancing the lives it touches, whether they're consumers or workers.