Levi's new jeans walk into trouble

It seems that the creative talent on Madison Avenue has discovered a new commandment: if you want to sell trousers in America you had better make sure that your advertisements upset so many people that they have to be withdrawn.

The folks at Calvin Klein showed the way last month with their deliberately sleazy campaign with pubescent-looking models for a new line of denim trousers.

Now New York has got itself in a twist over another advertising offensive, by the company that first gave us jeans, Levi Strauss.

What concerns the city's politicians is not that this campaign may be inciting citizens to have sex with under-age children - the main contention of critics of the Klein commercials - but to steal.

The company decided to promote its new brand of "Dockers" casual trousers by sandwiching an actual pair in the perspex display cases at some 40 bus shelters around Manhattan, with a banner slogan: "Nice Pants". And at $55 a pair, the trousers did indeed present quite a temptation.

What most irritated the local politicians is that the company evidently anticipated that some of the trousers would indeed disappear. In case the trousers were lifted by anyone equipped with a crowbar, a second message was waiting to be exposed on the poster beneath: "Apparently they were very nice pants."

"That's a terrible mistake," thundered an indignant Rudolph Giuliani, the Mayor of New York, who pressed for the campaign's suspension. "It's exactly the wrong lesson to be teaching to people."

The company was ready with a reply. "We in no way encourage people to steal," said Levi Strauss's marketing specialist, Brad Williams. "The ads promote pants. Period. The ad doesn't say: `Steal These Pants'. The ad says: `Nice Pants'."

While debate rages over who is right - in fact, only one of the displays in Manhattan was reported vandalised - Levi Strauss has unbuckled to Mr Giuliani and set about removing the offending trousers.

But then, with the controversy splashed across the city's front pages, it is doubtless doing so quite happily.

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