Remember when Levi’s ads were great?

Levi’s has a new ad out. Set to an uplifting pop tune, it feels like a journey through some of the brand’s best ads – there is a nod towards Laundrette, to Dangerous Liasons, even to BBH’s classic Nick Knight print ads featuring older models. Yet rather than making this the greatest Levi’s ad ever, by echoing these classic ads this spot just makes me miss the jean brand’s advertising glory days…

Levi’s has a new ad out. Set to an uplifting pop tune, it feels like a journey through some of the brand’s best ads – there is a nod towards Laundrette, to Dangerous Liaisons, even to BBH’s classic Nick Knight print ads featuring older models. Yet rather than making this the greatest Levi’s ad ever, by echoing these classic ads this spot just makes me miss the jean brand’s advertising glory days…

The spot is the first one from FCB since the agency picked up the Levi’s account earlier this year, when the brand split from Wieden + Kennedy after five years together. FCB has worked with Levi’s extensively in the past and, alongside BBH in London, helped set the brand’s distinctive tone of voice, particularly in its combination of music and street style. Here, for example, is its 501 Blues spot from 1984:

Its new ad is a curious affair, however. Not entirely bad by any means, its combination of familiar imagery – that really could be for any jeans brand these days, such has the Levi’s style been copied – with frankly weird copy makes for an ad that is unlikely to create the storm of attention that Levi’s spots used to.

In its heyday, Levi’s advertising could be brilliantly quirky. Some of the brand’s best work came out of focusing in on certain features of the jeans, or on new styles. Who can forget Flat Eric, for example, who popped up to promote the brand’s Sta-Prest One Crease Denim Clothing.

Or this spot to promote the Engineered range?

In print, when working with BBH, the brand also knew how to be striking. Here’s one of the aforementioned Nick Knight pieces, which featured older models looking extremely cool:

Other classic print work was shot by Richard Avedon:

And this campaign for the launch of Levi’s black jeans was BBH’s first ever poster for the brand. The tag and the black sheep image were later adopted as BBH’s logo.

In more recent years, the brand has struggled to define itself in a crowded market. Its Go Forth campaign, created by Wiedens, aimed to align the brand more closely with its American roots and also offer a message of hope in troubled times. It was a strong campaign, if a rather downbeat one compared to Levi’s’ sexy, music-based past. Plus, as we pointed out in this article from 2009, the work was at times a little aesthetically similar to Wrangler.

The hope when a brand joins forces with a new agency is that we will see a strong position appear in its first work, which will suggest the tone going forward. Based on this spot, it would seem that Levi’s is going to toe a rather bland line – one that hints of the joys of its advertising past but fails to take the risks that made that work so great.

Rather than worrying about its jeans being bored by its wearers, as this ad bizarrely suggests, perhaps Levi’s needs to be more concerned about its audience being bored by its ads.

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Lecturer Design Management

Kingston University

Design Assistant

Cultureshock Media