On Monday night, I jumped out of bed after seeing something startling on TV. See, I decided to turn in a little early and watch the Rams-Giants game before dozing off. But about a half hour into it, I saw something shocking. It wasn’t a commercial for the latest horror flick, or a wardrobe malfunction. Instead, it was a jeans ad. A Levi’s jeans ad.
But it wasn’t just any Levi’s jeans ad. No, this ad showed young people reveling in rioting. There was one young person riding his bike through tear gas, a mob of young people marching, and to top it off a young man shown taunting riot police.
That was enough to make me sit straight up.
I quickly rushed to the living room, and luckily I was recording the game. I rewound it and recorded what I saw (forgive the quality, it was taken from my phone):
But if the images weren’t surprising enough, how about the narration (which is a recitation of parts of Charles Bukowski’s poem, The Laughing Heart)?
Your life is your life. Don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission. Be on the watch. There are ways out. The gods will offer you chances. Know them. Take them. Your life is your life. Know it while you have it. You are marvelous. The gods wait to delight in you.
And all that while showing scenes of rioting. Is it not obvious what message the ad is sending?
Actually, it seems it is. See, after researching the ad, I came across some curious information. A version of it — which is part of Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign — was actually pulled in the UK because it was too controversial. It seem even the tolerant Brits understood what it was saying.
This is the version from the UK that was considered too hot for TV:
The Guardian reported on the ad being pulled last month:
Levi’s has withdrawn an advertising campaign that features a young man squaring up to riot police after a public outcry that it glorified the recent public disorder across the country.
The advert, which Levi’s launched on Facebook on Tuesday night, was due to be aired on television and in cinemas.
The “Levi’s Legacy” advert shows a young man squaring up to a line of riot police officers as the voiceover says “you’re marvelous”. The 60-second film ends with the words “Go Forth”.
A spokesman for Levi Strauss said the company had “temporarily postponed” the advertising campaign, but it will still run in other countries.
A spokeswoman for Levi’s also tried to explain the ad in general terms, but may have done more harm than good:
“Now, more than ever, the world needs inspiration. The world needs people with a pioneering spirit who still believe that anything is possible. Our 60-second ‘Go Forth’ film and digital engagement programme recognise people around the globe who are stepping forward to transform the world.” [Emphasis added]
And the images are definitely of riots. The Guardian says they’re supposed to represent the May Day riots in Berlin.
Now, this would be the point where I tell you that in the past, Levi’s wanted nothing to do with encouraging riots or uprisings, and that their global president has denounced them categorically, right? Wrong. In fact, Robert Hanson, global president of the Levi’s brand, told Reuters as recently as July that the company couldn’t help but see a correlation between unrest by young people across the globe and its “Go Forth” campaign:
Levi Strauss is echoing uprisings across the Arab world with a “Go Forth” campaign aimed at attracting youthful customers to a jeans brand that was once one of the most coveted in the world.
Fed up with high unemployment, rising food prices and repression, popular uprisings led mainly by young people overthrew governments in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year. Libyan rebels are attempting to overthrow ruler Muammar Gaddafi, while protests and demonstrations have rocked governments in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and swept across other parts of North Africa and the Middle East.
Robert Hanson, Global President of the Levi’s brand, said the global marketing campaign was based on research done over the past year that showed young people felt that it was their duty to improve the world.
“We’ve always been about embodying the energy and events of our times and this campaign is about returning to the pioneering spirit of the brand,” he told Reuters in an interview late on Wednesday. “Today, optimism is power.”
He said change in the Middle East has been enabled by borderless communication and the kind of young people that the Levi’s brand would like to be embraced by.
“You’ve got young people showing up saying let’s galvanise the power of our collective force, work hard to make the world a better place,” Hanson said. “And what better brand than Levi’s? We’re doing a lot of innovative things in our products and stores to have them choose Levi’s as the uniform of progress.” [Emphasis added]
And this would be the point where I ask some rhetorical questions such as “Why?” But it seems we have our answer: it’s profitable, and Levi’s wants to be the “uniform of progress,” however progress is attained.
Unfortunately, I can’t even watch a football game in bed without this stuff hitting me over the head. Add that to the list of things that are depressing about this whole thing.