OPINION: Mills on ... Levi's

I've watched the new Levi's ad a dozen times or so over the space of a few days, and each time I find a new piece of visual trickery to marvel at. The plot, such as one can describe it, sees a group of friends pull up at a run-down roadside diner. They jump out of the car and, like gymnasts warming up, gradually unwind and stretch their limbs. Torsos revolve, a tapping foot completes a 360-degree circle, heads spin and are swapped. For those of us whose joints ache and creak, it's painful to watch. But then, that's the point - and not just because I'm too old for this product. For our group of friends are wearing Levi's twisted jeans and the ad simply is the visual expression of the jeans' USP: denim that fits like a second skin and allows great freedom of movement.

I've watched the new Levi's ad a dozen times or so over the space of a few days, and each time I find a new piece of visual trickery to marvel at. The plot, such as one can describe it, sees a group of friends pull up at a run-down roadside diner. They jump out of the car and, like gymnasts warming up, gradually unwind and stretch their limbs. Torsos revolve, a tapping foot completes a 360-degree circle, heads spin and are swapped. For those of us whose joints ache and creak, it's painful to watch. But then, that's the point - and not just because I'm too old for this product. For our group of friends are wearing Levi's twisted jeans and the ad simply is the visual expression of the jeans' USP: denim that fits like a second skin and allows great freedom of movement.

Now, one can look at the film on several levels. Advertising wonks will focus on the technical level. Certainly the post-production is quite brilliant. Given that the twist is the motif on which the ad is built, they couldn't afford anything remotely clunky in the special effects department. And thanks to The Mill, they succeed triumphantly.

The special effects are woven in so seamlessly that it's not until afterwards that you think: 'Did I really see that? And how did they manage it?' Visual trickery with a visual purpose - now that's what I like.

Tonally, the film has an air of confidence and authority that adds an extra impact. It also shows an advertiser back at the top of its game.

This is remarkable considering the difficulties that Levi's has been through.

When your flagship product is denim and denim falls through the floor to the extent that market share halves, your confidence takes a battering.

With hindsight, if you cast back to the tail-end of the 501's advertising, which looked like it was mining a tired seam, you can see the cracks beginning to show as Levi's looked for a new direction. Remember Kevin the hamster? A warning to us all of the danger of trying too hard to be cool. A recovery of this magnitude is also quite an achievement for a client marketing team so new to the brand. But maybe that's the benefit of a long-standing relationship with your ad agency.

It's often said of advertising that it shines at the details and is less good with the big idea. This is particularly true when it comes to fashion campaigns that are invariably brilliantly art directed - naturally so given the visual imperative - but are often lacking when it comes to the plot. Where this ad really does it for me is in the way the detail and the idea are as one.

For those of us brought up with the classic Levi's campaigns of the 80s and 90s, there are also some other changes worth remarking on. Americana is out, replaced by a notional globalism and backed by an eclectic but never less than cutting-edge music policy that is not country specific. Out go Percy Sledge and Marvin Gaye and in come the likes of Pepe Deluxe (You've never heard of them? Exactly.). This may mean Levi's has had to dispense with one part of its heritage - that sort of Californian Gold Rush authenticity it once used to such good effect - but, paradoxically, it allows it to concentrate on another piece of heritage: denim itself.

And this is another way the ad differs from the classics. If you look at them again, you'll see that most are boy-meets-girl love stories in which the product plays best supporting actor. In this latest campaign, the product is once again the hero. This is important because it allows Levi's to carve out a territory that it can credibly call its own, something it could not do outside of denim. It is also, I think, an important element in making Levi's cool again. Truth is, the best way to achieve coolness is to be true to yourself. And that's exactly what Levi's is doing.



Dead cert for a Pencil? For post-production, if nothing else.

Will it work? A hot product and a hot ad? Absolutely.

What would the chairman's wife say? I suppose Nick Kamen's too old these days.



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