Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Go Forth, Get to Work, and Be A Pioneer

 | Why Levi's "Go Forth" Campaign Resonates With My Generation |

About a year ago, I was watching TV commercials, and one came on that piqued my interest. It was mostly dark, the copy was some sort of poem, and I instantly LOVED it. That ad was the first part of Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign. The ads use Walt Whitman poems very well (on one ad, apparently it is his own voice). The copy of the poem “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” is supposed to evoke an emotional response from my generation, and I think it does. Here’s a snippet:

For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend,
Pioneers! O pioneers
(Rest of poem here. Highly Recommended)

The first few ads (one embedded above, the other you can just watch on YouTube) show young people running around interspersed with grim visions of Wall Street and America. “America” is literally half-underwater in one ad, which I think is supposed to symbolize the grim, hopeless recession-era we were in (and still are, to a degree). Some people loved it. Some thought it was too arty. Others mocked it (which usually means people are at least paying attention). Either way, it really struck a chord with me, and I assume other millenials were at least intrigued.

Fast-forward a year, and Wieden & Kennedy comes back with new ads for Levi’s. W&K, out in Portland, is this year’s hot ad agency. Remember the Nike “Write the Future” ad right before the World Cup? Ever heard of the Old Spice Guy? We know that campaign resonates with the millennial generation. W&K is behind both.

Anyways, they come out with this new part of the campaign based on a dingy old town called Braddock, Pennsylvania. This town is desecrated. Dead. Like Detroit and countless other cities on the Rust Belt, this town used to be a powerful industrial city, a steel-creating powerhouse, but then jobs faded away and so did the city. Braddock is a stand-in for our broken country, and Levi’s is here to rebuild it. Levi’s is even sponsoring workshops, teaching valuable skills, so we can work.Watch the ad:

“A long time ago, things got broken here. People got sad and left. Maybe the world breaks on purpose, so we can have work to do. People think there aren’t frontiers anymore. They can’t see how frontiers are all around us.”

The ad is all about rebuilding. We know about rebuilding and repairing. Fixing New Orleans. Fixing the Gulf. Fixing the banks, and fixing health care. We’ve been left with a country in ruins. We’re here to build, to work, to find new frontiers. It’d be easy to think the only frontiers are in new tech, but we have a lot more than that to create. The new ad shows people getting ready to work. The older generations think we don’t want to work, but we do. We’re an entrepreneurial generation, ready to find these new frontiers. We’re trying to work, but for ages 20-24, the unemployment rate is somewhere around 18%. My friends and I graduated from a great university (On Wisconsin!), yet most of us are still unemployed and looking. It’s time for us to get to work.

This whole campaign is, in my mind, pretty brilliant. A year ago, when the country was even more financially broken than today, Levi’s showed us that America was broken, but we still had our youth and we could still be pioneers. Today, it’s giving us a call to action. The ad is saying that the future is in our hands, and we can rebuild. We need to rebuild. It’s up to us to fix the country.

Look, I know these ads are just here to sell jeans. They’re ads, so the main goal is to increase sales, so the effectiveness of the campaign is based around how many jeans they can sell (I’m not exactly racing to the stores). But I think good ads can resonate with the zeitgeist and create culture. Great ads become art. I think W&;K did a great job finding a basic truth about our current situation, finding a message that would resonate with our generation (the target), and boiling it down into great copy and art direction to convey that message. That's all you need: a great insight, a message from that insight, and a way to communicate that message to the right people.

What does everyone else think about the campaign? Do older generations “get it?” Am I missing anything? Let me know.

1 comment:

  1. Since most of my friends are leftists they're pretty sickened from the campaign. Most of the blog posts I've read(over 100) love it but most of them are toting W+K's/Levi's talking points.

    I made a site around( this so I've been following it pretty close- the sites still pretty bad. I got some paid work this month so that kinda fell by the wayside.