Levi’s Unbuttoned – and Undone?

Is the new Levi’s campaign fit to button the flies of its illustrious predecessors?


Is the new Levi’s campaign fit to button the flies of its illustrious predecessors?

BBH’s classic ads for Levi’s 501 jeans were rooted in aspects of the product itself – whether rivets in the crotch, twisted seams or pockets that made a neat hiding place for condoms. Playing on Levi’s unique heritage, in an era of nebulous, ‘emotional’ selling points they at least seemed to be rooted in an actual product benefit.

However, despite winning countless awards and securing a place in popular culture, the 501 formula has largely been abandoned. According to BBH creative Jim Hilson the old ‘product point’ approach “was no longer engaging the young global audience Levi’s sought. Instead of simply talking about the product, Levi’s needed to make it relevant, with a point of view on what it meant to be young and free-spirited,” he says.

Hence Unbuttoned, the latest global campaign for the brand:four films that attempt to engineera link between Levi’s jeans and the unrestrained freedom of youth. In Unbreakable (above), we see a young man in a street, his top trouser button daringly undone. The camera rushes towards him and he goes flying – but lands on his feet. Repeat with various good-looking 501-wearers. So, apparently, if you live unbuttoned, you’re invincible.

Meanwhile, in Secrets & Lies (below), we find a young couple in a hallway in a passionate clinch. “I’m not really in a band,” he says as she starts run­ning up the stairs. “I don’t work for a label,” she replies. He chases her. More snogging. “I’m not really from LA,” says he at the top of the stairs. “And I’ve never been to New York,” she responds. Jeans are unbuttoned. “I’ve been living in my car,” he says as they practically fall into a flat, shirts somehow removed in the process. “This isn’t my apartment,” she says as they both throw them­selves at each other.

Guitar (below) sees a young man getting up in a girl’s apartment and putting his clothes on while a blues guitarist, seemingly in the same apartment (presumably representing the young guy’s ‘inner voice’) asks if he’s going to wake the girl up and tell her he loves her. The guy gets dressed, seemingly unmoved by the sugges­tion. He notably doesn’t do up the top button of his jeans, picks up his guitar and leaves without saying a word. “Some things are better left undone,” the blues singer croons as a kind of musical strapline.

Finally, in First Time (below), an apparently virginal young couple remove shirts, unbutton jeans and reassure each other that what they’re doing is mutually consensual and that their “first time” will be alright. Then, the camera pulls back to reveal they’re actually standing on the end of a pier. They both hold hands and jump into the water.

Hilson makes the point that, like the best Levi’s ads, all four films do make reference to the product – in this case the 501 button fly, the top button of which is pointedly left undone in each spot. But there are many jeans with buttons these days. There’s nothing uniquely Levi’s about leaving your top button undone, something that reminds us more of the after effects of a particularly big dinner more than a spirit of unfettered devilment.

Nevertheless, the films are undeni­ably entertaining, sweet (in the case of First Time) and, in the case of Secrets & Lies, sexy. Levi’s has long struggled to distance itself from the middle-aged jeans-wearer. This campaign is working hard to deliver that longed-for youth audience and maintain some of the highly-charged eroticism of last year’s Dangerous Liaisons spot, even if the new films seem unlikely to impinge upon popular cultural in the manner of their illustrious predecessors.

Advertising agency: BBH
Creatives: Toby Allen and Jim Hilson (Guitar
and Unbreakable); Rik Brown and Jon Fox
(Secrets & Lies); Kris Wixom and Alisa
Wixom (First Time)
Production company: Sonny
Directors: Jeff Labbé (Secrets & Lies); Fredrik
Bond (Unbreakable and First Time); Emil
Möller (Guitar)

What's the story?

The Storytelling issue, Oct/Nov 2017, is out now.
We invited writers to respond to our cover image
this month: read their stories inside.
PLUS: Tom Gauld, Oliver Jeffers, Giphy & S-Town

Buy the issue

The Annual 2018

The Creative Review Annual is one of the most
respected and trusted awards for the creative
industry. We celebrate the best creative work from
the past year, those who create it and commission it.

Enter now


South East London


Burnley, Lancashire (GB)