Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Cynical Hearts of Wieden and Kennedy

I remember the moment when I decided that I was never going to buy another pair of Levis Jeans. It was not, as you would expect, a midlife crisis style epiphany when I suddenly realised that I wasn't a kid anymore but a man who should be wearing cords or slacks or whatever it is that men wear. No, it was nothing like that, it was when I saw Levi's 'America' ad which had a series of images celebrating America over a scratchy recording of Walt Whitman reading his poem America that also, er, celebrates America. What got me upset was the hypocrisy of this because the ad came only a year or two after Levis closed down its last plant making jeans in America. That's the play isn't it? Move your stitching factories to sweatshops overseas, hike the prices and then hire a cool ad agency whose job it is to fool the public into thinking that nothing has changed. Wrangler, that sponsor of rodeos and bull riding and stock car races, also makes none of its jeans in America. But these great companies do.
The Levis ad was made by Wieden and Kennedy who are also responsible for the Microsoft Ads and the Nike commercials among many others. (Mr Wieden came up with the "just do it" tag line which is enough cultural vandalism for one lifetime.) The Levis America ad is part of a new campaign for Levis called Go Forth which targets young wannabe individuals. I saw the latest commercial in this campaign in the cinema before The Ides of March (above, right). This ad has already generated some controversy. It was banned in the UK following last August's riots and nutcase/political commentator Glenn Beck saw it and said he wants to boycott Levis in protest because it will cause youth rebellion or something. The ad is a reading - by a Native American actor - of the Charles Bukowski poem The Laughing Heart. I can't believe that Bukowski would have been happy to see his poem used in this context and the idea that somehow the meaning of life can be enhanced or discovered through a pair of trousers made in a third world sweat shop surely doesn't convince even the naivest of the Millennium generation, does it?
In the second youtube clip I've uploaded Adam Curtis explains where some of this cynical advertising stuff came from on the Jarvis Cocker Radio show.