By Lara Levin
Behind Levi’s recent “Go Forth” advertising and marketing campaign — the innovative attempt of a more than150-year-old company to put itself back on the map for young consumers — is a team of forward-thinking communicators including a member of the USC Annenberg and Trojan family.
As the brand’s social media strategist, Gareth Hornberger (pictured, B.A. Communication ’09) has found himself at the heart of a pioneering initiative that has drawn praise from the media and digitally minded elite nationwide.
While Hornberger’s social media title is new to both the Levi’s brand and the field of communication, he is by no means new to the digital space. Early in his time at Annenberg, Hornberger recognized, through his own consumption patterns and those of others, that the future of advertising and marketing resided in the online and interactive realms. He thenceforth focused his pursuits — professional, academic, and even personal — on honing an expertise that, one could argue, is virtually innate for young people today.
“I saw it as a space where I could provide insight,” Hornberger said. “Being part of the millennial generation, I was born into a constantly growing and evolving digital world. I’m connected at all times — my iPhone is the first thing I see when I wake up and last thing I see before I go to bed.”
Through internships at digital communication firms Tribal DDB and Razorfish, Hornberger soon found that this natural proficiency for social and online media platforms could not stand alone. A keen business sense was needed to connect the dots and make his role as a communicator relevant to the goals of company leaders. To synthesize these approaches, Hornberger also found himself bringing his professional experience to the classroom, allowing his understanding of overarching business objectives to inform his take on communication theory and practice.
“One of the great things I learned at Annenberg was how to look at communication under a business-driven and metrics-focused lens. I’ve been able to apply these learnings in my new role at Levi’s and really help drive home the understanding that social media has a huge impact on a company’s communications strategy and ultimately their business goals.”
With this perspective, Hornberger has been a key player in transitioning Levi’s marketing initiatives to include social media, which goes far beyond maintaining the company’s Facebook page and tweeting as @Levisguy. Rather, he is part of the talented team that crafts and executes the overall strategy, building partnerships with cutting-edge digital developers and establishing organic relationships with consumers to tell Levi’s brand story — a task that was not without challenge.
“One of the biggest hurdles to overcome was how to make fundamental changes in our communication strategy and establishing a leadership position in digital marketing and social media, while being mindful of Levi’s rich history, tradition and iconic stature.”
And though the space is constantly shifting, Levi’s leadership position in the social media realm has certainly begun to take root, with publications such as USA Today and the Wall Street Journal singing praises of the brand strategy transformation. In this, Hornberger can take great pride.
For current Annenberg students, especially those for which graduation and job hunting is an imminent reality, Hornberger recommends “getting your feet wet early” and carving out their own niche in this evolving digital realm, all the while remembering that communication is not an isolated function of an organization.
“Because the social media space is so new, and the landscape is really being defined every day, being up to speed on what’s going on in the digital world will help everyone dramatically. Companies are scrambling to figure out how to integrate social media into their marketing programs. This puts people our age with a strong digital communication background in such a valuable position. ”
As far as his own future? Hornberger sees a great opportunity with the Levi’s brand, and is eager to “go forth” and stay ahead of the curve.
“In 2009, Levi’s, like many companies, learned to crawl and walk in the world of social media. 2010 is going to be all about running.”