“This is a pair of Levi’s®, buttons and rivets and pockets and cuffs, and the thread that holds it together. . . . You’re the next living leader of the world. You’re a kid. Holding onto the thread. That holds it together.” This spoken word poem is just a sample of a new Levi’s ad installment, done in the same vein of their Go Forth campaign, launched in 2009, by Weiden + Kennedy, of Portland, OR. The commercial is supplemented by a smooth performance of a spoken word poem, and features fast-paced frames of young people working through the daily grind or, as Levi’s sees it, striving for greatness. According to a New York Times article published in July, the campaign targets an age range of 18-34. It hints, not so subtly, that Levi’s will help young people reach the next platform of greatness. They are loaded for bear as they embark on their road to success. As long as they are dressed in this classic denim, they can change the world.
Levi’s isn’t the only company jumping on this “alternative art as advertising” bandwagon. Arnold Worldwide Advertising launched a campaign for Jack Daniel’s, using the tagline, “Here’s to the American Spirit.” The campaign uses hand-crafted work from artisans around the globe, and serves as “Declarations of Independence,” contributing to the Jack Daniel’s traditional Americana vibe. The Jack Daniel’s website features videos following the artistic processes which result in a quasi-advertisement for the iconic whiskey brand. For example, the website profiles work by Derek McDonald, a self-proclaimed “traditional sign-artist,” who works at Gold West Signs in Berkeley, CA. In the sign-making video, which features a crackling, old-timey, country tune, McDonald states, “The craft of it is the most important part, you know, the tradition. . . . Trying to make the best thing that you can, in the best way that you can. There’s a billion other people out there doing it the easy way. So why not do it the traditional way?” The video waxes nostalgic of American craftsmanship as it should be, at least according to this campaign. The ads focus on ideas of Independence and reviving the “American Spirit,” comparing the hand-crafted work by dedicated artists with the making of Jack Daniel’s.
Alternative advertising is ironically becoming not only very mainstream but also increasingly popular in the industry. In addition to the work by Arnold Worldwide and Weiden + Kennedy, Microsoft has used graffiti street art installments to advertise new products in New York, and Adidas used a street art installment with plants in the shape of a shoe in London to advertise their “Go Green” campaign. Companies specializing specifically in street art advertising have cropped as well, such as Alt Terrain, which uses street art murals and graffiti for advertising.
The tuned-in hipsters of Weiden + Kennedy, Arnold Worldwide, and many others have nailed their audience. In order to reach a new generation of consumers, advertising companies have gotten creative, commercializing alternative art forms, such as spoken word poetry and graffiti, and romanticizing traditional craftsmanship, as in the case of Jack Daniel’s, to connect with a younger, educated, and inspired population. The mood of anti-conformity evoked by the Levi’s commercials, and the idealistic notions provided by the Jack Daniel’s ads, speak not only to the novelty of these campaigns, but also to their power. This type of advertising, good or bad, is successful. Seeing the Levi’s ad for the first time, I admit that I felt motivated, as though I wanted to get up and do something–which is exactly the goal of the campaign. I feel a certain pull on my heartstrings watching these meticulous artists labor over their work, regardless of what they advertise.