Wranglin' for a share of the market

Adwatch by Meg Carter
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Indy Lifestyle Online
At last, official proof that broken bones have sex appeal. Anyone still unconvinced by David Cronenberg's Crash take note: the latest marketing campaign for Wrangler jeans employs real-life rodeo stars risking life and limb - a theme continued across all marketing activities down to the X-rays of broken limbs now dominating shop windows and jeans displays.

Professional rodeo star Jason, 22, appears in one ad boasting of his 59 injuries (including 27 broken ribs) sustained in just three years in the ring; Bodacious, the meanest and smartest bull on the circuit, features in another: "Worn by 99 out of 100 rodeo riders" is the uniting theme. Each commercial has been shot in rough 'n' ready home video style to reinforce Wrangler's brand-new marketing theme: real-life heroes of the American West.

The idea is an aggressive attempt to take on the world's leading jeans brand - Levi's. Wrangler Europe's marketing director, David Smith, explains. "We believe we've reached the point where we now have a real opportunity to break out of the pack and truly challenge the leader." Forget high- gloss, slick production values - the time has come to get real. It's a familiar refrain last heard from the lips of Dennis Leary, brand spokesman for Holsten Pils. But it is one especially apt for the jeans market, which is heavily cluttered with competing brand names.

In the UK, Levi's enjoys a 23 per cent market share compared with Wrangler's current 8 per cent, as well as a cooler image, thanks to almost two decades of high-profile, high-gloss European advertising devised by the London agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty. It's a similar story in other European markets, where rival brands have long struggled to compete. That is, until Wrangler and its advertising agency, AMV BBDO, agreed the time had come to get aggressive.

"Rather than following established rules we believe we have rewritten them," Smith declares. The new ads - part of a pounds 15m campaign - avoid duplicating cliched jeans imagery featuring beautiful people, an eclectic mix of settings and scenarios and the next top 10 hit. Wrangler's positioning remains the same as it always has been: the authentic Western jeans. At first glance, rival US brands Levi's and Lee may seem to have a similar tale - Levi's roots lie in the California gold rush, Lee's in the building of the railroads. "But that's history," he insists. "Rodeo is now."

And he's not joking. In case you didn't know, Wrangler is the official competition apparel of the Professional Rodeo Competition Association. The company even has research to prove its "99 out of 100 rodeo riders" claim. So the association with rodeo is legitimate. But is it really relevant in Europe? Absolutely, Smith retorts without hesitation. "Rodeo is the only real 'extreme sport'."

Image is key - one reason for the enduring success of Levi's. But there's a fine line to tread. With the highly discerning, advertising-literate 16-24-year-old audience predominantly targeted by each brand, it's easy to get it wrong. Witness the mixed reaction which greeted the latest Levi's ad, featuring a drowning man caressed beneath the waves by nubile mermaids. Or Lee's Levi's pastiche involving a jeans-clad, weightless couple cavorting in space.

"Real values relevant to the brand's heritage" is Wrangler's claimed response. It's all about improving perceptions of the brand. People just won't buy them if they don't think they're cool. And amongst Wrangler's core target audience - young men - something's already stirring. "A breath of fresh air," is how one twentysomething responds: "It certainly makes them seem cooler than they did before."

That, at least, should get him as far as the changing room. As for the fit - well, Mr Smith and his team await his verdict.

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