Posted By Mike Diccicco October 18, 2016

One of the many positive impacts of a well-planned and well-executed brand marketing campaign is the ability to help effect change.

Product launches that take people (engineers, parents, physicians, whomever) out of their comfort zones and into new ways of doing things. Brand makeovers. Corporate re-positionings.

It’s usually tough work. Human nature resists change. Which typically means you need powerful communications to make things happen.

But not in all cases.

Sometimes change is already happening, the result of other forces at work. Sometimes the communications job is not to announce or enable change, it’s mostly to accelerate it and allow the brand to ride the wave rather than create it.

In many industries, change is resisted by the people who run the businesses, too. More of them should look to the fashion world, where the very idea of change is not only not resisted, it’s embraced.

A new style can take off with the speed of light, sometimes for reasons hard to fathom, sometimes based on the particular look or fashion statements of a single iconic figure in the public eye. Think of Jackie Kennedy and pillbox hats. Kurt Cobain and the grunge look. Kim Kardashian and . . . well, you get the idea.

Sometimes, however, a fashion movement begins seemingly on its own.

A lesson learned from bell-bottoms
Levi's AdLet’s hop in the way-back machine to take a look at the emergence of bell-bottoms. American sailors wore them in the 1800s for functional reasons—easier to roll up, helpful to turn pants into flotation devices if you fell overboard.  Coco Chanel introduced them in the 1920s as part of her collections where they took on the names of “yachting pants” and “beach pajamas.”

So-called flower children began wearing bell-bottoms as part of their everyday wardrobes in the late ’60s. At the start, the flared denims were simply the “fashion finds” of hippies who scoured Army-Navy stores for clothing that was both cheap to buy and markedly different from the conservative fashions of the day.

But quickly, starting in the San Francisco area, the epicenter of the Peace and Love generation, bell bottoms “went viral”— and the look took off among young people throughout the city.

According to fashion historians, it was Sonny and Cher who made bell-bottoms truly mainstream when they wore them weekly during their popular variety and comedy show. (It’s worth noting, by the way, that those were the days before media fragmentation—the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour was a top 20 show reaching an audience of millions each week.)

But here’s the point:

Did Levi Strauss—arguably the company who realized the most economic gain from the popularity of bell bottoms—make the bell bottom fashion phenomenon happen with a huge TV campaign or massive PR budget? Did the marketing people of Levi’s instigate the craze? Were they responsible for “change?”

No, no and no.

What Levi’s did was act, smartly, when they saw the change happening. They took advantage of a cultural phenomenon—but they didn’t cause it. And, because bell bottoms were much more than a short-lived, single season fad (who remembers the Nehru jacket?), Levi’s was able to achieve significant sales revenues and profits without ever having to educate, motivate or convince anyone that this particular fashion look was worth adopting.

Levi’s ad campaigns for bell-bottoms did not need to introduce or enable change. They simply accelerated it by embracing the momentum.

You can still own change even if you don’t spark it.