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Levi’s Campaign Centers on Braddock

Thursday, July 01, 2010
By Deborah M. Todd, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Finding the right images to represent Levi’s 2010 “Go Forth: Ready for Work” campaign would take far more effort than the usual calls to location scouts and modeling agencies.

With blue-collar manufacturing and construction jobs in steady decline, the company wanted to highlight people and places fighting the effects of the recession while preparing for industrial renewal.

So when Levi’s executives decided to try on Braddock for the job last year, it ended up being a perfect fit for both sides.

“This isn’t any kind of traditional marketing campaign. It’s a partnership between Levi’s and Braddock that is 100 percent for the betterment of the community,” Mayor John Fetterman said.

Doug Sweeny, Levi’s vice president of brand marketing, said the company’s advertising agency, Wieden+Kennedy, introduced the town through national news stories in which Mr. Fetterman highlighted the community’s struggles and recent accomplishments.

Once a thriving community of about 30,000, Braddock saw its population fall to fewer than 3,000 following the collapse of the steel industry and the area’s surrounding business district. The area’s largest employer, UPMC Braddock, closed Jan. 31.

When the company found that the town’s revitalization efforts include sustainable development, urban farming, public arts projects and an emphasis on youth outreach programs, executives saw no need to look farther than the Mon Valley for its campaign’s feature town.

“We were just captivated by the idea of a partnership with this town,” Mr. Sweeny said. “If we could help put this town back to work in any small way by forming a partnership, that would be great.”

The multimedia campaign will feature Braddock citizens donning Levi’s Work Wear collection for fall while taking part in a range of everyday activities. Mayor Fetterman is one of the models.

One digital ad shows Braddock Farm director Marshall Hart in a denim Work Wear vest balancing a shovel behind his back on raised shoulders.

A print ad, which shows 6-year-old Jarral People adjusting the button-down shirt of his father, Anthony Price, has made its national debut in a New York Times article about the campaign last Thursday.

The ads will be launched nationally in cinemas and in print on Friday. Television ads will run in the fall.

“[This] is the best time of me and my son’s lives. It can’t get any better,” said Mr. Price, 23, of Washington Street.

An AmeriCorps KEYS Service Corps participant, Mr. Price said he was in the job-search process when Mr. Fetterman stopped him to take test shots during a November casting call. Today, he says the opportunity has opened doors he never imagined.

“This isn’t even about me, it’s about my children and other children in the community,” Mr. Price said. “We’re showing them there’s more out there than what [they] see and what other people tell [them] is out there.”

Deanne Dupree, 23, a former UPMC Braddock housekeeper, said Mr. Fetterman had helped her find jobs before, but nothing like the ad campaign featuring towering billboards with her image. And with a professional portfolio under her belt, she’s hoping to spin the experience into a new career.

“A lot of people told me I should [go into modeling], but I told them I would need a contact and some money first. I never looked into it until this came along, but now I’m so excited about it.”

All participants received compensation for the ads, but the largest payout was reserved for the biggest participant – the town itself.

Levi’s has committed to dedicating more than $1 million toward renovating the Community Center on Library Street and Braddock Carnegie Library and to purchase an additional acre for Braddock Farm.

In addition, every Levi’s retailer in the country will keep posters and postcards detailing Braddock’s story, listing its businesses and mentioning ways to support the community.

“This is going to bring Braddock back,” Mr. Price said. “A lot of people don’t have faith, but I think this can bring their faith back.”

While some may lack faith, Mr. Sweeny said the town’s perseverance was the quality that ultimately drew the company in, and could keep it around for years.

“Levi’s is a brand you put on when you want to get stuff done, to make things happen, and that’s clearly what was going on whenever we got there,” he said.

Ms. Dupree believes it’s about time someone outside the community noticed.

“A lot of people don’t like doing housekeeping, but for me it wasn’t a problem because I just do what I have to do,” she said.

“That’s why I like this theme of hard workers because me and my friends in this community work so hard to take care of our families.”

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