OPINION: Cowen on ... Lee Jeans

If you're a fearless hotshop straining to do gutsy work for gutsy

clients, then it seems there's only one way to demonstrate your creative

integrity these days. At some point, you have to whip down your pants

and moon the general public.



More and more of the industry's "cutting-edge" campaigns seem to revolve

around arse jokes. Mother's Vindaloo Super Noodles work set the agenda

and before you know it we've got Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

rolling out farting lightbulbs in this week's work for the Energy Trust.

The logic of all this is fairly simple. If you want to grab the

attention of the youth market then a bottom - or associated sound effect

- is worth a thousand witty scripts or celebrity endorsements.



That's pretty much the territory that Fallon is having a crack at in its

pan-European campaign for Lee Jeans' Denim 42 range. The ad, which

features a bunch of arses driving around America in search of Lee jeans,

is aimed squarely at the 15 to 24 age range that drives the denim market

and it has a media schedule - based around cinema and MTV - to prove

it.



Lee wants young, fashionable customers to pay attention to its product

and, boy, does it need them. It commands a mere 5 per cent of the UK

jeans market and its positioning has been relentlessly squeezed of late,

leaving it ill-prepared to catch the slight updraft currently blowing

through the sector.



The main driver of this upturn has been Levi's, which has hopped back on

the shopping list of the young and trendy with the Twisted Original

line. This revival has left one obvious niche in the jeans market - the

rugged, classic western image. Unfortunately, VF Corporation, which owns

Lee, has decreed that this is best filled by its sister brand,

Wrangler.



Lee has been told to get out of "classic" territory on the next

train.



The Denim 42 range seems well-positioned to stake out a new appeal for

Lee - cheap (£35), no-nonsense, yet still hip. With this in mind,

Fallon's botty epic seems a perfectly cheeky vehicle for reminding us

that everybody's rump looks a lot better in a pair of jeans - no matter

which way the seam goes. This ad should be farting in Levi's general

direction and reminding us that we don't have to take denim all that

seriously.



Unfortunately, Fallon's bottoms just don't have enough personality for

that. They're totally unengaging. In fact, their performance is so lame

they deserve a spanking. Instead of concentrating on the nice,

washed-out colour scheme or the funky soundtrack, the director should

have been there with a loudhailer screaming at the things to emote

more.



Now, it could be that bottoms are just not as cute as, say, thumbs -

witness that battling little fella struggling through Saatchi &

Saatchi's ad for Chocolate Fingers - but I don't believe it myself.

There's a great deal you could do to give bums more personality. You

could use a range of flabby and skinny ones, draw on faces, animate

them, almost anything other than sticking them in a window and telling

their owners to clench along with the script.



But the problem is that Fallon and Lee don't want to imitate a Benny

Hill sketch. They want arthouse cool rather than farce, which is why so

much of this ad feels like a surrealist exercise - or a Levi's ad -

rather than a joke. Lee can't quite bring itself to commit to the arse

end of the market and abandon the uber-cool territory to its rival - so

it whips the bottoms out and then can't decide whether it's being ironic

or funny.



As a result, it's neither - and this hard-luck brand seems likely to end

up on its backside once again.



Dead cert for a Pencil? The sweet smell of success is unlikely to be

hanging around these bottoms, I'm afraid.



File this under? B for Bizarre - or Bottom.



What would the chairman's wife say? Just how are they steering that car?