Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Levi’s and the Apocalypse



HAVE YOU SEEN THIS TV COMMERCIAL YET BY WEIDEN + KENNEDY? I was stunned the first time I saw it. I was talking to my wife when it came on and I stopped the conversation immediately with the words “wait—wait… what’s this?” I was at once and immediately fixated on the raw b & w imagery, the words. It’s dark, and shaky and a bit apocalyptic, which is why I was so curious as to what the advertisment was selling. I figured it out half way through—I said “jeans!” but I didn’t know which brand until the logo appeared at the end. Levi’s.

The ad was directed by Cary Fukunaga for Weiden + Kennedy, Portland using poem by Walt Whitman written in 1888. In fact, the voice of the poem is the
earliest known recording of Walt Whitman. How strange is that! At the beginning of the commercial we see the words “AMERICA” (as a large sign) laying down in dark water. Is this a signal re: the end of America— or a new beginning? Fireworks appear throughout as rockets in war. (I told you this was apocalyptic!) Near the end of the poem is a brief kiss by a young black man with a young white woman—not something you see often on TV commercials. The spot, with scratchy Walt Whitman recording and music by Final Fantasy (“The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead - Many Ives Version”) and ends with what sounds like a gunshot in a riot—but alas it turns out to be a firecracker.

This is a really creative, artistic piece by W+K—bound for a truckload of creative awards. I love it. Will the spot(s) generate enough traction within their audience to sell more jeans? That’s the $64 dollar question. What do you think?

15 comments:

Albert said...

Wow! I love it. For me, it's always really great when you can take something so common as a pair of jeans and connect it with interesting imagery and powerful words. I guess Levis is iconic though. Great recommendation.

Larry Torno said...

Who cares if it sells jeans? I've not seen a bold move like this in commercial advertising in years. Bravo to the client who approved it. The sound of the fireworks punctuates the visuals like gunshots in the night; especially the final shot. It's a bit disturbing compared to the warm toned images of American life. Great post, John.

Maureen said...

Brilliant! I'm without TV these days, and although I've discovered I don't miss it, I'd love to seen this on a bigger screen. On that incredible PBS series about NYC someone, Pete Hamill I think, read a Whitman poem about the city that made me weep. Thanks, John.

Jim Linderman said...

Since not ONE PAIR of Levi Jeans is made in America anymore, not even in a fake manufacturing plant maintained for museum purposes...I find any marketing or advertising claiming the brand as an icon of America pretty darn insulting. Are good union members in this country capable of making blue jeans? um...yes. Are any? um...no.

Tina Tarnoff said...

I haven't bought a pair of jeans in ages (I kind of started despising them), but I sure am tempted now. That ad got me in exactly the way you described it. Thanks for putting my emotions into words. I loved the apocalyptic feel of it, and not truly knowing weather it was the end or the beginning of it all. LOVED Walt Whitman poem. It's bloody amazing and pure genius work.

John Foster said...

I know Jim, you are right and I was waiting for a comment like this. When you look at this commercial via YouTube, the comments reach a worlwide audience and the comments get pretty political and that's a good thing. So many times I see only the ART in things (like this video) and in this case, failed to connect it to the practices of the corporation. Take child-labor, for instance. I should know what Levi does re: that. Without question, there is an ugly side to corporate America that I have seen first-hand, so it's easy to get cynical in a hurry. My post was to discuss this video as a piece of marketing/art, it's dark approach and its almost invisible marketing of brand imagery. To disconnect it from the bad practices and greed of it's parent was short-sighted of me. And so, I appreciate your comments Jim, I really do and point taken.

Jim Linderman said...

And Thank YOU John. Another problem I have with this ad (other than the 80 million dollars Levi's spends each year on advertising their once splendid iconic jeans to us) is that to some, Walt Whitman is a deity...an American so special that he is revered like no other. Did the Agency production assistant who thought it would be a good idea to misuse his legacy on a branding campaign ever stop to wonder who or what he was abusing? I may be a bitter old man, but I'm right...some things are above crass commercialism, despite all our trying to forget it.

John Foster said...

I know Jim, my English teacher friend was horrified, pissed off and taken aback that they used Whitman's voice in this way. Yes, some things are indeed above crass commercialism and you are right as rain.

zatopa said...

It's actually encouraging to see that there are people in advertising who found Robert Frank and Duane Michals worth ripping off. It's a great ad, it captures a foreboding in our cultural moment that it's peculiar to see put to use in selling something.

Albert said...

I don't think we can escape capitalism. It's true that corporations are evil, we all know that, but we have to make the best of it. I would rather see a commercial with interesting imagery that takes a shot at being artistic than another random ad.
Also, art without commerce could not survive. We all want to sell our art.
Jim I would imagine you want to make money selling your books. Do you print in the US? I'm just curious. Also, no one is so sacred they can't appear in an ad. That's
rather bourgeois of you.
It's an ad- one that's was really visually appealing- that's all.

Jim Linderman said...

Albert, I don't think anyone from the advertising agency asked Walt Whitman if he minded having his poetry OR his voice used to shill a product. Especially one which has abandoned the very "common man" Whitman lauded in his work. The Poem he is reading is titled "AMERICA"...and I don't think he intended it to be used to sell a product, much less one which isn't even made in his own country anymore, despite their using their "iconic American" status to market the product. And just for the record? I don't like the three stooges used in ads without their permission either. Who asked Moe?

Albert said...

Jim, I can't argue with someone I like so much. I really respect your work and perspective and am saving up for your book. However, I'm sure you didn't ask all of the people in your vernacular photos if they would be in a book sold on Amazon. I would imagine that for them you are crossing a line.
I don't want to argue over an ad. I'm just saying that we have entered an age where art and commerce are deeply intertwined- a loveless marriage if you will.
I would rather praise John's amazing blog for introducing us to provocative and dynamic people and art than argue. I love your blog too Jim!

Jim Linderman said...

Good and thank you so much! I reckon John was about to ask us to take it outside, eh? I'd be happy to continue dialog directly, but we've reached a friendly impasse. I agree with you as well...there's thousands of people in my book I didn't ask permission. If it matters, I've not made a penny thus far, and the original photos were donated to the International Center of Photography (an organization which DOES serve the common good!) So other than a tax break for the donation, that's basically it.

Enia Is (Almost) Here said...

absolutely amazing. and though we shouldn't judge entire industries on the basis of few (extremely) bad apples, this is the first ad i've seen in many years that made me think advertising still has it. as for the walt whitman issue, where would we get if we were purists about how poetry should be used? who knows, maybe if he was living today, he would have liked it...

p.s. got to your blog via mike brodie, who i just discovered recently via another blog. really like it so far.

John Foster said...

You know, everyone has made some good, worthy points. I have actually enjoyed all this hoopla and it shows that we should all think and question the stuff put before us. Thanks Albert.. for your comments and Jim— I expect nothing less from you than the rebellious soul you are. : )

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