After years of zeroing in on baby boomers in its marketing, Dockers quizzed groups of younger consumers in March about their perceptions of the clothing brand.
The answers were sobering, especially at a time when the 8-year-old brand's once-explosive growth had stalled and efforts to revive it had fallen short.
"By talking mainly to the older and more settled consumers in our advertising, we were excluding the younger consumers," says Liz Levy, who supervises the Dockers account at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco. "We needed to change our voice."
As a result, Dockers, which is part of Levi Strauss & Co., scrapped a TV ad campaign and replaced it this month with a humorous approach that seeks to reach a new -- and younger -- audience without turning off the old one.
Dockers is not alone. Increasingly, marketers of products ranging from credit cards and cars to liquor and food are adjusting their targets.
"Just about every one of my clients is trying to take what they have been selling for years and reposition it to a younger audience," says Allen McCusker, president of Canaan Parish Group, a marketing consultant in New Canaan, Conn.
Under-35 consumers, who are making their initial choices among brands, are attractive to marketers even though the group's size is shrinking while the 35-54 group is growing dramatically.
The new commercials for Dockers wrinkle-resistant slacks feature stop-action photography, twentysomething men and no dialogue. In one spot, a man gets so bored at a business meeting that he starts doing somersaults in his chair, then dances with a female co-worker.
The offbeat music is by "Twin Peaks" composer Angelo Badalmenti.
In other steps to lure younger consumers, Dockers has added stone-washed, loose-fit slacks to its line, and "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Show With David Letterman" to the roster of shows where it advertises.
Del Monte Foods is targeting younger consumers in its new television and print ads, trying to convince them that the convenience of canned fruits and vegetables fits in with a '90s lifestyle. In one commercial, a twentysomething man says he likes Del Monte peaches because "they don't have to go in the fridge -- which is a little full right now" and then opens a packed refrigerator, from which pizza boxes tumble. In another spot, a young woman says, "I don't dice tomatoes. Boyfriends dice tomatoes -- and I'm between boyfriends."