Still riveting after all these years

PETER YORK ON ADS: No 147: LEVI'S
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The Independent Culture
A new Levi's commercial is always something of an event - and an indicator. In the decade since Launderette, Bartle Bogle Hegarty have produced very different treatments for Levi's, without even a regular sign-off line, which have none the less added up to a consistent, recognisable stance - accessible-hip, modern-classic values, patron of the lively arts.

The new 501s ad reverts to black and white (but grainy), with harsh jump- cutting rather than the smoothie surrealism the banks and building societies are using now. The music's harsh and jumpy too (rather like the hard sound of last year's Carl Lewis epic for Pirelli), which, of course, is completely anachronistic, because this is an American 1958 Deep South story and the cliched approach would be a dose of the blues.

The original of this particular Deep South story is blatantly obvious: it's The Defiant Ones (1958), which starred Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as a couple of runaway chain-gang prisoners, one white, one black, who escape, still yoked together (subtext: massive mutual hostility, resolved in a late-Fifties Liberal Hour way).

The classic escape scenes are re-rendered very fast and very angled. The fugitives run through the snow chased by dogs; one falls over. They run down a railway tunnel. They're alongside the train; one jumps on to an open wagon and hauls the other up. It's a miniature cliffhanger, and all the messages are astoundingly clear: strength, trust, bonding, PCness with hip. Then the ad reverts to an explicit product claim Levi's used back in the Eighties, namely that 501s are strong because they're made with rivets. And all this riveting is what the story's about: a reiteration of the absolute emotional reliability of the brand - the kind of thing that sounds extremely clonky in marketing-speak.

The art lies in an entertainment that makes jeanswear seem hip, PC, retro, and capable, by implication, of navigating difficult issues of race, all in 80 seconds.

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