Levi’s Go Forth

Wieden + Kennedy Portland has launched a new campaign for Levi’s, titled Go Forth, which draws on the brand’s heritage as the quintessential American jeans.

levissmall_0.jpg - Levi's Go Forth - 1544


Wieden + Kennedy Portland has launched a new campaign for Levi’s, titled Go Forth, which draws on the brand’s heritage as the quintessential American jeans.



The Levi’s brand has been incoherent in the last few years, having lost the strong position it struck in the 80s and 90s. Much of its recent advertising – particularly BBH’s Dangerous Liason ad directed by Ringan Ledwidge – has tried to inject some of the sexiness previously associated with the brand by referencing its history, and Go Forth, the first campaign from W+K Portland for Levi’s, is ploughing a similar furrow.



The campaign will run across TV, print, and digital (with the website launching tomorrow) and, according to executive creative director Susan Hoffman, wants to pay homage to Levi’s history, “but also to refresh and reinvent the idea of a pioneering spirit for the times in which we live”. These times are of course that of a recession and the spots feature a manifesto suggesting that one of the answers is to abandon suits and make a return to good ol’ fashioned hard graft (presumably done while wearing Levi’s jeans) – “I am the new American pioneer, looking forward, never back,” it states. “No longer content to wait for better times… I will work for better times. Cause no one built this country in suits.” The two TV spots continue in a similar vein, featuring works by US poet Walt Whitman.



Ryan McGinley is the photographer behind both the Levi’s print campaign, top, and the Wrangler’s one from Fred & Farid that recently won the Grand Prix in Press at Cannes

Despite this topical aspect, these new ads feel strikingly familiar. This is in part due to their success in tying in with Levi’s history, but, more worryingly, because of their similarity in style to the recent Wrangler campaign, which last week picked up Grand Prix in Press at the Cannes Lions festival. Wrangler stole a march on Levi’s with this darkly sexy series of ads, which feature the jeans only obliquely. So it comes as a surprise to find that W+K has chosen to work with the same photographer, Ryan McGinley, for its print work. McGinley is known for his loose, intimate style, revealed in photographs of friends he has taken over the last few years. While his shots for Levi’s are more light-hearted than those for Wrangler, they are distinctly his work – perhaps W+K and Levi’s thought its audience would not see the similarity? Or are they trying to reassert themselves over Wrangler? Either way, McGinley must be good for free jeans for the time being.

  • very interesting post.

  • What do you get when you co-opt an already co-opted artist? If you’re in advertising, a Grand Prix in the biggest international awards show. W&K and Fred & Farid were just following the hipsters who said McGinley is cool. For two agencies that claim to lead, they’ve proven without a shadow of a doubt that advertising is an industry of sheep. It’s simply a matter of who you follow.

    More on the matter: http://aramique.blogspot.com/2009/06/grand-prix-fred-and-farid.html

  • thenewworld

    predictable & boring…

  • I’m not sure that I agree with your point given these examples. Although both campaigns feature water, the style and tone of the Wrangler photo versus the Levis photos are quite dissimilar. If the photos were presented anonymously, I never would have guessed that they were from the same photographer.

  • kira

    I agree – the work is totally different. I’ve loved Ryan’s work for years and I think it continues to evolve and surprise. that wrangler campaign is a year and half old and in europe and the new levis work is totally different and feels very american and closer to ryan’s core work. I look forward to seeing more work and levis – two american brands.

  • Tom

    this Levi’s campaign really sucks. Levi’s and Wieden + Kennedy look ridiculous, after the Wrangler Grand Prix

  • rubbish

  • ij

    I totally agree with the writer’s point. The ad industry is famous for copying and recycling and this is no different. Some art director trolled through other jeans ads and saw a style they perceived would be hip for the youngsters. Instead of trying to create their own brand of hip, they chose to get as close to the previous achievement as possible without doing a direct copy.
    Great for the photographer though, he has a fantastic style. The only problem is the ad industry is so utterly literal about creative, he will be shooting slightly different versions of the same Wrangler campaign for years to come.

  • editrrix

    I really don’t have an opinion about McGinley’s work, though I feel like this isn’t his best offering. Still, he deserves to work commercially—everybody has to make a living. What I am more curious about is if the copywriter and the photographer ever work together on ad campaigns such as this one and others. There seems like a disconnect between those two worlds and the photos come off as contrived somehow. I feel like I’d like the images more if the copy was more honest or authentic.

  • Erik Joule

    The Levi campaign uses the “spoken word” something which is rarely done. It is not only using the spoken word but that of Whitman which was a pioneer in its own right back in 1855 when he wrote Leaves of Grass. Although I understand taste is subjective and somewhat arbitrary “Go forth” taps into the fiber of the American spirit, a spirit we are just beginning to regain. Levi Strauss came to the US and pioneered West to look for Gold. As he put rivets in Denim to make it sturdier so that the gold miners could have pants which lasted, he started his business. The first $5 he made he gave them to charity, which Levi still supports today. The company demanded desegregated factories 20 years before the Civil rights movement, the south followed the wishes of the company as business superseded ideology. In the 1980’s Levi was the first company to offer domestic partner benefits. It is this spirit which still lives within Levi and its jeans. I think this ad recaptures the essence of the company which has always been at the fiber of the American spirit, a spirit which represents tolerance, optimism and progression,
    Great campaign!

  • Samanhta

    I couldn’t agree more. I just came upon something small that chastised both the agencies and brands for this kind of a behavior: http://cream-nyc.com/blog/?p=1582

  • Gai Bored Man

    The negativity on display here is quite something.

    An accusation of plagiarism of his own work proves the battle the next generation of image makers will have to endure.

    Their is very little originality on display because so many art directors and photo editors do not understand how to harness the talent or fight the battle against the editor in chief or client for the side of creativity in our industry.

    I think the jury at Cannes made a great decision and what now Mcginley cant shoot denim again ?

    Brands like Calvin Klein/Hilfiger should have used this guy but they prefer to live in the past like lot of clients. Good for them its their brand, they can do what they want even if it is boring.

    Bet Meisel, Demarchelier, Weber, Lindbergh, Klein,Liebowitz, Sims, Teller, McDean & Richardson would like to see McGinley given a break here or at least some honest reflection on their own originality for divergent brands

  • I quite liked the campaign. It may not resonate with you with just one view of a print ad but all the elements of the campaign work together well. Kudos to W+K. I don’t think it’s anyway similar to the Wrangler stuff.

  • Angela Peluso

    I am extremely beautiful, and when I wear jeans, they are Levi’s.
    I look better than anyone in ,my jeans.
    Yeah, I do

  • Angela Peluso

    By the way, I can kick your poet’s ass!!
    My words are better. contact me, and I’ll show you, Levi’s

  • I saw one of these ads in NYC’s Spring Street 6 subway station. The copy read, “This country was not built by men in suits” – which someone added to in matching handwritten scrawl: “IT WAS BUILT BY SLAVES”. Up to that point, I hadn’t been able to put my finger on what it was about the campaign that made me feel so uneasy. But with that bit of graffiti, it all came together. Levis (or rather W+K) is glorifying these centuries old American ideals – Optimism! Egoism! Manifest Destiny! – while making paltry gestures towards the reality of American history and what America is today. Besides the few ethnic actors in the video, their print campaign is disappointingly monochromatic and seems almost unapologetically alienating. It would have been really amazing to see Levis pay homage to the symbols of true individuality from our past – the Freedom riders, abolitionists, Suffragists, veterans.”The Frontier” is sexy and all, but how about some real American heroes?

  • guime

    What a pretentious bullshit. Advertising is not art, or poetry. Just the opposite.

  • donald

    Russia and Germany had their wartime propaganda. We have ours.
    Why anyone would attempt such dirivitive optimistic americana NOW, no matter how “down home” it appears, is beyond me.
    This campaign (especially the commercial) doesn’t lift our spirits. It shovels dirt in our faces.
    And it co-opts walt whitman to do it.
    Stop with the pro-blue collar posing and blanket hard times optimism. It’s tired and unoriginal. It’s an insult to anyone who truly does work hard to make this country a better place.

  • Sally

    I think the Wrangler campaign is a very strong, original idea and a step away from an established brand image. Ryan’s photos are beautiful. The concept is daring, funny and sexy. It works. It deserves its prize.

    The Levis campaign doesn’t do it for me. The scrawled type is ugly and the patriotic fantasy doesn’t seem that patriotic. There is a copy/image disconnect and the picture painted doesn’t interest me.

    I prefer the Dangerous Liaison commercial which feels fun, young and sexy. I want a piece of that!

  • Congratulations Wieden + Kennedy, you just copied what March Forth clothing has been doing for over six years!


  • Robo

    I am saddened that Ryan McGinley has chosen to photograph advertising campaigns for Levis and Wrangler. Many of us thought he would be this generations Nan Golding or Wolfgang Tillmans, photographers who used snapshot-like techniques to open up perceptions and show the complexity of people. By reducing what he does to a pithy sales pitch, and reducing the people in his images to marketer engineered aspirations, Ryan has turned a style that people found freeing into something that serves narrow-minded vanity, which I hope he can outlive and transcend.

  • me

    wow…this is terrible. goodbye edge…hello abercrombie. kinda makes me wanna stop wearing levis

  • Donnie
  • Mark Coolidge

    Using an embracing artifact such as a Levi Strauss textiles and graining it against a Walt Whitman poem is wonderfull. In itself is a sense of simplicity. Both within a time wherein the textile itself was a matter of necessity, and the poetry made a linguistic effect on society, both then and and now, definitely. Necessity is the mother of of invention and we are in times when these forces should be merged and acknowledged. Clothing has allways relyed on the written word and vice a versa. So,…. don’t hate bitches…..

  • John Panzer

    this is going to work big time…walt whitman – a gay american poet…the whole thing right now is to be sexually ambigous.

  • Jim Laliberte

    This ad is absolutely ridiculous. As with other Levis ads over the last few years, the “message” is vague and stupid. If Levis wants to cater to a different demographic, use that demographic in a way similar to Wrangler…..talk about the product and how comfortable, fashionable, etc. it is…..what kind of value it is.

    This is another in a long line of foolish ads by Levis……they need to realize they are selling freaking jeans, not perfume…..so stop it with the “esoteric approach”. Copy your competition and just use a more sophisticated demographic….law students, students in medical school, etc. It’s a shame they waste so much money on stupidity.

  • This campaign is for teenage boys who play apocalyptic video games. The photography is beautiful and the Whitman stuff is nice, but the dark imagery is so distracting that I thought it was a video for the band Tool.

    How can anyone see the America sign half submerged and not think of the Statue of Liberty scene in Planet of the Apes?

    Turn down the sound and play any dark brooding metal… and it works better, throw in some zombies or vampires and then it’s a hit!

    someone please remix this thing and Youtube it ASAP

    The problem I have with Levis as a brand is that they are trying to hard to be cool and it’s obvious. The brand perception was much higher when they didn’t try to out design the competition, they just cranked out great product.

  • annette kreitzer

    this is the BIGGEST piece of SHIT advertising i have ever been witness to. Is your head totally up your ass, i will never, nor anyone in my family, buy a pair of piece of shit, made in china, levi jeans, as long as i breathe

  • AlexG

    I don’t care what Wrangler has done, the Levi’s ads strike me everytime I see them. Whenever they come on the tv I seriously stop what I’m doing and feel a chill. Especially the tribute to Whitman – I think, if Levi’s is looking to target the intellectual, restless, alternative-lifestyle friendly, edgy, liberal arts major youth of America, they are right on track. Also, as a marketer, this ad campaign really made me want to take a second look at how they can combine inspiration with art and the practicality of jeans as something you would wear to take on the world.

  • Phil Barnes

    Saw your go forth ad on LOGO tv and instantly became my favorite ad. I wasnt sure if it was Whitman but had a gut feeling it was.Not here to debate the pros and cons of the work just dropped a line saying excellent job .I have a book of Whitmans and think I will pick it up again.Oh by the way Im so much older than the teens in your ad but still have those feelings that come over me every so often.

  • Austin J

    Wow, lot of critics here.

    Look, I thought the ad has an edgy, movie-esque cinematography, used Walt Whitman’s actual voice, and played on an Americana theme. How many commercials do you see that have this look, edge, and appeal with this classic Americana ideal? Not many. Like it or not they have a unique commercial which is sure to turn heads.

    Someone posted that commercials aren’t supposed to be art, and someone else said it was pretentious…personally I’m glad an agency wasn’t afraid to have a bold commercial like this for a large brand. Worked for Apple didn’t it?

  • my name?

    the black man kisses a white women, just remebering the past..to remeber is to feel pain… the death that was upon them day and night right by thier side.the feeling that God didnt create me and others…brings a cold feeling to my soul..the past is tommorow..and the past was inhuman..

  • Susan Miller

    I have a closet full of Levis, the all-American jean After seeing these ridulous, Nazi-like commercials, I’m ready to donate them to charity. Makes me want to puke.

  • Stephane von Stephane

    RE: “This is another in a long line of foolish ads by Levis……they need to realize they are selling freaking jeans, not perfume….”
    Hey, one mans perfume is another mans jeans.
    I like the Words, not so much the images in this ad. I thought it sounded like William Burroughs…now, THAT would have been ‘edgy’.
    ~Stephane von Stephane

  • phil

    This Campaign was tastefully done, putting aside the targeted demographics, and
    Yes Levis is trying hard to be cool, but aside from all that
    it is inspiring and nostalgic which works for mainstream america.
    GReat Job! so you shit talking people,
    Can eat shit n die.

    Best Wishes!

  • Ms P

    I’m not an ad agency schlub, a photographer or an ad critic… just a consumer with some entertainment, medija & communications work under my belt. So I’m also not unsavvy or gullible to the ways of ad & marketing. But I must say this is one of the most compelling ad campaigns I’ve seen in a long, long time. When I see the Levi’s commercials, I want to be there, be those people. It evokes youth, freedom, just a little sex and a little mystery. Artistically it’s lovely.

    Those of you who say it’s crap, I’m curious to know what ad campaigns, in comparison, you think are great?

    And to Mr. March Forth Clothing: the problem is no one has ever heard of March Forth Clothing!

  • Chris Becker

    The song that fits to this campaign is the Hollywood award winning song called “Working for the USA”!
    Check out the artist Steve Cooke. http://www.steve-cooke.com
    Great and well done! Just on the pulse of time guys!!

    LEVIS “Working for the USA”.

  • vi

    I liked the Levis campaign and I loved the edgy text about working Americans. All those pups out there that take offense to the fact that it was working America the made and and diaper wearing 30 year olds need to chill. Other than milking ma and pa dry, you kids have only lived of the sweat of the hard workers and your parents. The “suits” have brought us Wallstreet meltdowns and the diapers have brought us impending national disaster. It the shoe fits, wear it! And in this case, you overgrown, over nurtured, and over pampered diaper wearing and so called adults need to can it. It’s not about blue collar America, it’s about the people who made this country!

  • simon good

    so here we are it’s post apocalyptic america as the fantasy back drop for youth. a re-start of sorts with a pioneer romanticism. no old people. or dead people. just futile pointless landscapes with the patina of hard labour. using the tone of industrial poetry to sell it’s clothes that will be bought in malls, and tried on in a fluorescent change rooms between texting. this is a gypsies tear. for the undeserving.

  • natalie

    criticize this campaign as much as you want, but i’m 21 (probably who levi’s is talking to) and i freaking love this campaign. i can think of many more 20 somethings who will have the same reaction. i get the irony, a denim line produced in asia playing off american pride and the young person’s desire to create change to increase sales and continue the industrial cogs a turning. but regardless of these ethical issues, w+k gets what young people feel about america now. we aren’t necessarily optimistic and we can see how things are pretty f-ed up –hence the dark imagery. but we do want and change, and we want to be the one’s to bring it. the use to great american frontier and young free-spirited individuals in levi’s along with copy reminiscent of revolution, pioneering and american pride resonates with my generation. we have all learned about this great american history and heritage (be true or fabricated) and now we are entering into our time, our era to go forth.

    i understand the criticism and agree with most of it, but as for the majority of 18-25 year olds –they will connect with this. that’s what i think w+k does best, they dig into the pysche of its consumers and find truths that will speak to them.

  • A lackluster attempt at a targeted campaign. Bring back Mr Oizo………