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What you can learn from the Levi’s® denim empire

levi’s® are a staple — and not just in San Francisco, where they’re based (so naturally we’ve got a soft spot for them!). Since 1871 with their first patent of tough denim overalls, the company has lasted 143 years, and is one of the oldest in the country. They’ve done so at least in part, by having a great brand strategy.

Naturally, as they expanded from a single product into the however-many thousands they have had available through today, there were a lot of opportunities to use their logo in different merchandising contexts.

They’ve done this, particularly recently, by playing off of the duality of old and new — advertising their heritage as well as an ability to adapt to contemporary culture. Here’s how.

You gotta start with something — and in Levi’s® case, the merchandising almost came before the branding. To create a sign to identify their product, Levi’s® began to add a small red tag to the back pocket of every pair of jeans, embellished with a simple sans-serif text.

This has provided the basis for a ton of their branding and merchandising — the color and the font are still well-used through today as the basis for the brand’s contemporary marketing.

It wasn’t always this simple — naturally, a brand that’s been around almost 150 will move through aesthetics of different eras. But their current brand scheme has centered around one signature shape.

The “Batwing” logo was designed by Walter Landor in 1967 to represent the signature stitching on the back pocket of a pair of jeans, which in addition to the red tab and heavy metal rivets was one of the signature touches that distinguished a pair of Levi’s® from any other brand of jeans. In 2011, the brand revitalized this mark, working to train the public into associating this wordless symbol with their brand.

The original concept is on the left of the image above – the red pocket shape overlaid with that same text from the pocket tag. Then there’s signature cutoff “R,” which is derived from the fact that the registered trademark is cut off on that same red tag.

What is great about this logo is that you can remove many if not all of these individual components and still have a recognizable brand mark. In the middle example, the color is removed — still the same effect. And in the rightmost image, they manage to completely remove the text from the branding and are still able to convey their same brand identity, but customized to certain segments of their consumer.

The iconography doesn’t stop there! The bolster their strategy, Levi’s® has stuck with this signature image, which dates even farther back from the current logo. It’s what they dub Two Horse® patch.

Originally designed to advertise the strength of the jeans but a bit too complicated to use these days as a logo, this tag still adorns every pair of jeans — and not a small amount of merchandise

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While a ton of the brand’s merchandising is based on integrating their branding into their seasonal apparel — they don’t stop there.

A couple of years ago, Levi’s® won the bid to sponsor a stadium. You might recognize it, as it was just home to the 50th Superbowl. And if there’s one industry that really knows merchandising (aside from Hollywood, which is also fairly good at that), it’s sports. Jerseys, t-shirts, pennants, beer mugs — there’s literally no end to the types of things you can put a logo on in a sports arena.

And Levi’s® has stepped into that game with grace, finding creative ways to bring their brand to the masses – everything from putting their jeans on public-facing employees in the arena, to creating their own branded NFL collection first for the 49ers and this fall, all 32 teams.

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