Rioting youth and a cool pair of jeans

11 Aug

Levi's Go Forth TV ad riot scene

This week, Levi’s announced the decision to delay the UK release of its expensive new TV spot, which encourages young people to find themselves through sex, riots and rock & roll.

Levi’s admitted in this article that youthful rebellion was probably a sensitive subject in the UK at the moment and this was probably not a good time to air their advertising.

I must be missing something. So there is a good time to advocate rioting to flog a pair of jeans?

Advertisers aren’t satisfied glamorizing chemical bake-out and teenage skeletons having group sex? They have to encourage youth to riot?

I think it’s advertising condescension: Let’s be one with the kids. Let’s high-five anarchy. Yeah! But toss in a bit of sensitivity to throw the squeaky wheels off the scent.

Apparently Levi’s has no issue running the spot in other less sensitive countries.

Here it is. You decide.


28 Responses to “Rioting youth and a cool pair of jeans”

  1. SPLee August 11, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

    Advertising condescension. I agree, Doug. When brands run out of propositions, they make up lame ones.. Even as a piece of film, it’s weak. Don’t tackle social issues, Levi’s. It’s too complex for a brand to embrace. Go back to talking about your pockets and stitching. Talk about your buttons and zips. That’s what you do. Not politics.

  2. Jorge Pedret August 11, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    Completely agree with you. Seems like business would do anything for money nowadays and that’s really sad.

    Advertisers have to understand that they do more than sell jeans: advertisers influence people’s minds, they’re shaping this world with crap like this that we see everyday on TV.

  3. Reg August 11, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    Amen, Doug. What’s even more disturbing to me is that this is an anarchist/rebelliious message masquerading as an inspirational/motivational piece, with the underlying aim to imprint that Levi’s is the way to “Go Forth” (towards ‘the light’??). That, for me, IS misleading, and playing with impressionable minds in all the wrong ways.

    While I’m glad it didn’t air, there is no appropriate time or place for that message, as you point out, and I hope Levi’s suffers a backlash from (???) at least the advertising community for their shortsightedness and cynical approach to (who?) disenfranchised youth (??).

    This is the antithesis of good advertising: whatever credibility Levi’s might have had with me (notwithstanding I’m clearly not the target audience) prior to this has now gone out the window.

    Brand damage? You bet. (Hey, wait — I know: let’s burn down the Levi’s factory — that’d be sick…).

  4. Doug Brown August 12, 2011 at 4:48 am #

    > Jorge, we can probably guess that Levi’s and their ad agency thought they were onto something authentic. I found this press release ( from Levi’s in which they confirm this position:

    “‘Go Forth,’ a rally cry to create positive change in the world today, taps into modern consumer sentiment that these are not easy times, but they are our times – ‘Now is our time.’

    A rally cry to create positive change in the world. That’s surely what the riots in Vancouver and London were all about too.

    > Mr. Krake, how nice to have a comment from you. Something I was noodling around with when I wrote the post was that Go Forth is only half the sentiment. Isn’t the complete phrase Go Forth And Multiply? Spread the message of youthful disenfranchisement!

    The problem with this is that it speaks to the lowest common denominator of youth culture. The ones who rioted in Vancouver don’t represent the hope of our future, but the threat. The mindless anarchy, destruction of property and “good times” mentality is not something to hold up and aspire to!

    I laughed at your comment about burning down the Levi’s factory.

  5. Mel Wood August 12, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    The words are so positive it’s a shame they didn’t choose positive imagery to go with it. This is another example of a lazy marketer going with the easiest idea to stir up buzz. “the Gods wait to delight in you” I think it said. Why would they delight in chaos?

  6. Doug Brown August 12, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    That’s a good observation Mel. The words ARE motivating but the imagery just shouts them down. I wonder if Levi’s feels they are generating the buzz they hoped for? Maybe youth love the spot and we are playing into the advertiser’s hands by criticizing it.

  7. neil August 12, 2011 at 9:45 am #

    Not finishing the “Go Forth…” is the point of the whole spot. I can go forth and do whatever I damn well please.

    This ad speaks to the boredom the audiences faces and positions the product as a vehicle to escape that boredom.

    Keep in mind the target audience are kids who’ve been sheltered and protected since birth, told they were special and as good as everyone else. They’ve been marketed to from the crib and sold on brands and products that only further remove them from reality. This audience is starting to mature, they’re trying to find jobs, they are hitting the real world and the dissolution is real.

    This is also an audience that has watched their parents play the proper societal role only to be fired, laid-off, get divorced, lose their pension, receive no health coverage or just struggle to get by.

    There is anger and frustration amongst kids today and even they don’t understand it. The ad speaks to that underlying angst.

    Levi’s should push harder with this. It actually resonated strongly with me and I’m a firm believer in responsible government and respect for business and personal property.

  8. Doug Brown August 12, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    Good to have a counter-weighted opinion on this Neil. I guess I feel every generation has an axe to grind and is rebelling against something. Is Levi’s, a jean maker, right to try and harness that vague dissatisfaction and suggest that rioting is a suitable expression for it?

    It’s a heavy sell for a pair of jeans.

  9. Don Power (@donpower) August 12, 2011 at 10:31 am #

    “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders… Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents…and tyrannize their teachers…”

    Socrates (469–399 B.C.)

    Plus ca changes, plus c’est le meme chose.

    – dp

  10. Z August 12, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    I find this ad to be very pretentious for a denim corporation. Plus, they lost me when they started invoking God. It will probably resonate better with “tea baggers”, than with urban young people.

  11. Doug Brown August 12, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    > Wow Don, how on earth did you track that down? I bet you Socrates wouldn’t even have sniffed at this Levi’s spot. But he also wouldn’t have been caught dead in a pair of their jeans. 😉

    > It is a grand spot isn’t it Zoran. I can’t figure out how youth won’t feel manipulated by this because it isn’t subversive or subtle. It’s pandering to them. But I could be wrong. I wish we had a few youthful voices in here to add some perspective.

    Thanks for the comments guys.

  12. Kayodé August 12, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Two things strike me about this ad:

    a) The juxtaposition of the narration and the imagery: Just like Mel Wood pointed out, the words are quite positive, but the imagery is truly off: “The Gods wait to delight in you”… when – dead or alive?

    b) If this campaign is “a rally cry to create positive change in the world today”, why not showcase “change” from different “positive” perspectives: the boardroom, classrooms, one’s family – this would have given the ad a more robust context.

    Insinuating violence – no matter how subtle; is never a “creative” idea, especially when you’ve got a very impressionable target audience.

  13. Stef August 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    The essence of a riot reminds me of a scene in To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. Excuse me while I make a reference to this book. Scout, the main character who is a 7 year old girl breaks up a riot simply by asking a man about his son. This reminds the man that he has a family and singles him out from an angry crowd. In short, a riot is irrational. People often forget themselves in the face of a crowd and follow, doing things they normally wouldn’t alone. Now back to this advertisement…how can a riot resonate with people and their daily lives when riots are something that youth get caught up in? Look at the Vancouver riots, the young man who got a scholarship for waterpolo and then when his photo was discovered taking part in the Vancouver riots, his scholarship was taken away. Do you think if someone stopped him, singled him out and reminded him about his passion and his future, he would have stopped? I would like to think so. And this is what I think advertising should do. Adertising should be Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird and remind people what makes them unique in the face of crwd. It shouldn’t show us as blind follower, sheep if you will, destroying things and doing harm. Furhermore, why would Levi even want to be associated with riots. Riots evoke irrationality, danger and hate. I completely agree with Mel, when she says that the commercial sounds so uplifting, only to be confussed with images of something that is so negative.
    “You can’t beat death, but you can beat death in life…sometimes” What does that even mean? You have such a strong statement and then put sometimes at the end of it?Don’t get me wrong, I believe that people should stand up for what they believe in, but there is no part of this ad that evokes that message. It simply screams be a follower – “go forth”

  14. Doug Brown August 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    > I’m with you on both points Kayode. The rally cry for positive change surely isn’t accompanied by an index finger pointed at the police re-enforcements. At least not in the countries this spot is aimed at. What do you feel this does for the Levi’s brand?

    > Stef, that’s quite an amazing comment. I love the analogy and your suggestion of the opportunity that Levi’s missed out on. They should have had you around during the brainstorming. Thank you for that.

  15. Stephan Rosger August 12, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    I think that the riot scene could go at 0:44-0:50. The other crowd scenes where they’re rejoicing in coloured smoke and confetti could be misconstrued as teargas and an office building blowing up causing it to rain paper.

    Marketing a product as something that makes you badass and free from conventional norms can take many shapes I guess.

    Just look at James Dean, or this Mastercard/Levi promo spot showing Marlon Brando in the movie “The Wild One.”

    You should see the group of thugs he hangs out with in that movie, nothing but trouble just by looking at their jeans and leather jackets I tell you.

    So yeah, it’s an ongoing thing with Levi, nothing new here. I respect that they pulled the commercial in the UK, and hope they play things a little safer in the future. Just because dressing different and growing your hair funny doesn’t make your customers rebellious anymore, doesn’t mean Levi’s has to run amok with global issues and a lost generation clinging to anything that looks exciting.

  16. Doug Brown August 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Worth noting that the last 3 commenters are all in the targeted demographic, even though Stephan looks WAY younger.

    > Stephan that last comment, ” a lost generation clinging to anything that looks exciting ” was pretty potent. I’m sure no generation sees themselves that way. No doubt your comment will lead to riots in the streets!

    The scenes you mentioned where they are running around in coloured smoke could be a Holi festival in India.

    Thanks for The Wild One/MasterCard clip too, which was actually pretty funny.

  17. Brad August 12, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    There is no good time to advocate rioting. I think Levi’s could easily have achieved the rebellious/free spirit message of this spot without the rioting shots. However, I’d definitely agree with Kayodé in that it would make more sense if positive images matched up with the positive message.

  18. Caityn O'Brien August 12, 2011 at 6:30 pm #

    (Shivers) the background voice is very creepy for one thing, and I think advertisers want to be in your face no matter what the subject matter, as long as it turns heads they have got an audience. It will probably continue this way for a long long time.

  19. Doug Brown August 12, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

    > Thanks Brad. I like what Stef suggested, which is that the opportunity here might have been to show leadership to the audience rather than the mob mentality. Although these days, arguably, the mob is winning.

    > Caitlyn your comment harkens to an earlier point that the advertiser may well be pleased with this outpouring of criticism in the mold of any-publicity-is-good-publicity…especially as it will give something for these disenfranchised, riotous youth to rally behind – or against.

  20. Doug Brown August 12, 2011 at 8:37 pm #

    SP, your comment (the first on the post) somehow ended up in the spam box and I’ve only just now fished it out. Some brands can embrace social issues, even some fashion brands like Benetton have. But creating a code to live by seems a bit of a stretch. Especially when that code is an incitement to do whatever the frick you feel like doing, which is what this spot advocates. Thanks for the comment!

  21. Chris Burdge (@b_WEST) August 14, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    The opening line is pretty ironic “Your life is *your* life…” they neglect to add “as long as you live it wearing Levis”.

    Good thing kids today go their own way and aren’t affected by advertising…

  22. Doug Brown August 14, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Chris you’re probably right and what a sobering thought that is for advertisers! On the other hand, as was evidenced in Vancouver and London, clearly anarchy holds a certain attraction for large numbers of our youth. More sobriety.

  23. SPLee August 14, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    Doug, sure brands can make political statements. And many have. But if they are not walking the talk, then it’s hypocrisy. I’d like to know if Benetton contributed in any way to a cure for AIDS. If a brand champions a cause, it must put its money where its mouth is. Otherwise, you are just hijacking a movement to sell widgets. I agree with Z SAYS – pretentious, invoking God.

  24. Doug Brown August 15, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    SP, I couldn’t find any reference to any contribution that Benetton made to AIDS research, but they did sell their Formula 1 team to Renault for $120 million in 2000.

    I see this Levi’s hijacking as a throwback to the years when there was little social corporate responsibility or accountability to the public. I guess they figured they’d covered their …erm.. bases, by having a Facebook campaign.

  25. Bertha August 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Ha! What a crock this ad is. That line, “you can’t beat death, but you can beat death, through life, sometimes” ridiculous.

    If I were ever caught in the middle of a riot (god forbid), the last thing I would be thinking would be ewww nice jeans. I also think the last thing I would want to be wearing would be nice jeans.

    Life has its ups and downs… survive it with jeans? Please. Lets go back to the ads displaying really good looking people. That doesn’t anger as many people, and boy does it sell.

  26. Doug Brown August 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Bertha I guess Levi’s is going for aspiration over function here and would probably feel that their jeans look way cooler to the kids all messed up with blood and remnants of tear gas. Thanks for eyeballing the spot and leaving us your thoughts!

  27. Stef October 3, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    I was just going over this commercial for one of my consumer behaviour courses when I found out that this is actually a poem by Charles Bukowski. Taken out of the commercial – the poem is actually quite good, but with the images, poor timing and rioting context, I am not quite sure it worked out. Also, its really too bad he wasn’t credited anywhere.

  28. Doug Brown October 3, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    Good find Stef. That explains your earlier instincts about the incongruity of the “creed” and the images used. Crediting the poem would not have saved the commercial, but it might have given depth to what comes across as a shallow pitch for fashion.

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