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.