Flat Eric is long gone and Levi's latest brand mascots - Bernie, Fingers and Hopper - have failed to make a similar imp-act on the public.
The company, which began selling denim overalls in the 1870s, may still have an iconic brand, but it seems to be trading on past glories. Levi's net revenue in Europe fell to $266m for the third quarter of 2009 from $306m for the same period in 2008.
Moreover, the brand admits the drop would have been a lot worse had it not been for an expansion of its stores.
Levi's introduced its animated mascots earlier this year in a pan-European campaign to mark the 10th anniversary of its engineered jeans. However, they were retired last month and the comp-any is understood to have recruited an artist to create alternative characters.
During the 80s and 90s, the launch of each Levi's TV ad campaign attracted serious media coverage. The songs they featured - including Flat Eric's catchy backing track, Flat Beat, by French electronic musician Mr Oizo - would become chart-topping hits.
Recently, though, the brand has faced the challenge of finding a marketing strategy that resonates with all jeans-wearers. It has discovered that even an app-roach based on animated characters does not always appeal to the younger audience it was designed to attract.
What can Levi's do to regain its once-hip image? We asked Hugh Bishop, chair-man of Meteorite and a former marketing director for Levi's, and Tracey Follows, planning director at VCCP, who works with O2 and online clothes store very.co.uk, for their views.
Diagnosis Two industry experts prescribe some jean therapy for Levi's
Hugh Bishop chairman, Meteorite
I love this brand. As one of its past marketing directors, I shed a tear to see a long-time market leader suddenly become a victim of the times.
It was the 90s that did it - holding 40% of the teen market in 1990 but just 18% in 1998 should have been an indicator that something was up. But as the world changed, Levi's somehow didn't; if anything, it banged on about tradition when the market wanted creative personality.
It continued to sell in big department stores where key market sectors just don't go and it ended up in the murky middle (the marketing lesson being 'charge more, charge less but don't charge the same').
Over the past 10 years, Levi's has tried to get itself up to speed. But its marketing looks laboured. Pushing 'pioneering' is meaningless to my kids, who want fashion. Despite tinkering and the fact that denim sales are weathering the storm, Levi's is losing ground. It's a classic tale. I hope it has a happy ending.
- Make the product fashionable. Get well-known designers to create top-end signature ranges, as well as low-end ones. Be where the market is and mean it.
- Retail has moved and shops are wearable brands. Levi's should create engaging retail experiences around concessions and pop-ups, making the range tight and exclusive.
- Levi's needs a face, it needs a bit of fame and a 'fit' champion, and probably more than one of them.
- Levi's needs to create some fun and capture a generation where heritage must mean something relevant and authenticity has value. It must not live on past glories.
Tracey Follows planning director, VCCP
Nike, Stella and Levi's - three brands inextricably linked to my mid-80s memories. Three brands that stood out as symbols of status and acceptance, trading on a long-standing 'image'. If the three were now in the 'experience' race, Nike is crossing the finishing line, Stella didn't have the stamina to make it halfway and Levi's is limping along due to an old injury it sustained years ago.
When Levi's found itself caught between designer and discount denims, instead of reinventing itself, it allowed the likes of Diesel to plug that gap.
There is now an opportunity for Levi's, if it accepts that it isn't in the jeans business. Nike understood it wasn't equipping budding athletes with training shoes, but with 'motivation'.
Meanwhile, for Levi's, real life caught up and overtook the carefully crafted brand images around individual status and blew the myth-making wide apart.
Levi's continues to build everything out from the product. After years of spin and gloss, people now crave authenticity. Levi's can reinvent what it means to be authentic now by not equipping us with jeans, but with a new-found liberation.
- Reinvent the concept of workwear for an information-led generation, and equip people not with a pair of jeans but with a sense of liberation.
- With the likes of Megan Fox, Diane Kruger and Drew Barrymore recently spotted in 501s, ride the back-to-basics wave, and associate the brand with authentic, 'quiet rebel' types.
- Shift focus away from 'image'-building ads and refocus on delivering relevant brand experiences in everyday lives.
- Products are no longer about individuals and status, but being social and providing pleasure.