Levi's ad swings both ways
by Michael Wilke
Seeking to break out of the usual, Levi Strauss & Co. has created a provocative new commercial with two endings -- one with a gay twist.
A man in a sleek apartment tries on a pair of jeans but struggles to pull them past his ankles, when suddenly a phone booth containing a blond man partially erupts through the floor. They look at each other with mischievous smiles. Lowering his jeans back down for a moment, he forcefully pulls his jeans all the way up -- turning his entire apartment into a complete outdoor street scene. The two men happily walk away together.
The campaign, created by BBH New York, has an alternative ending with a woman in the phone booth. The brand's main demographic is young men, aged 15-25.
"We like the idea that it could essentially go both ways," says the openly gay VP-marketing at Levi, Robert Cameron. "You can read it in many ways, including whether it's a 'coming out' metaphor -- we actually think it's richer and more textured in the gay version."
Currently running on the 24-hour gay network LOGO, the same-sex ending is scheduled to appear later on other cable channels such as Bravo and HGTV. "We said, 'We'll put this on LOGO, but why just be in the so-called gay ghetto?' "
It is a rare example of a commercial that has dual straight and gay endings. It was preceded by Orbitz in 2003, which did so with marionettes ogling a pool boy. Created by Y&R, Chicago, the gay Orbtiz spot ran on Bravo and BBC America (LOGO didn't launch until mid-2005).
Cameron, who has been in his post with San Francisco-based Levi Strauss just a year, notes, "The company's been brave, but people don't know that Levi was the first Fortune 500 to offer domestic partnership benefits" in 1992. "In context of that I asked, 'Why aren't we doing anything braver?' "
The last openly gay campaign created by Levi was a 1999 print campaign in gay media that included a black woman holding a sign reading, "Don't tell my girlfriend I'm gay," and a flamboyant young man holding the sign, "I'm going to the opera."
The previous year, a spot that ran on MTV featured a semi-nerdy guy named Dustin, who told his coming out story. Levi also ran a gay heroes insert into OUT magazine, featuring "Party of Five" actor Mitchell Anderson, athlete Bruce Hayes, "My So Called Life" and "Rent" actor Wilson Cruz, former boy scout James Dale, "Will & Grace" writer/coproducer Max Mutchnick, actor and writer Guinevere Turner, and others.
A year ago, Levi modified an existing :30 commercial to run it on LOGO but didn't have appropriate creative for the network. They realized it wasn't ideal. "If you do something ambiguously gay at this point, you should be embarrassed to try to have it both ways," Cameron says, noting that fashion advertising often strives to do so.
To keep the cost of dedicated ads down, Levi planned the gay ending at the outset of its new campaign, saving an estimated $200,000, by Cameron's estimate, on a $1.5 million commercial.
The goal, Cameron says, is that "we need to talk to communities that are leading fashion, like African-Americans and gay men." He adds, "The message is, 'We see you, we support you, just like any other human being.' "
Cameron says there was little opposition at Levi for the commercial's gay ending, except unexpectedly for a few gay merchandisers, who were afraid. Otherwise, "All I got was, 'Sounds great!' The surprising thing was no one said we couldn't do it."
"We'd like to be even braver next time, and show them holding hands," Cameron says, noting, "I think it still makes even advertising agencies squeamish. There's still a way to go, and they don't know it."
Ad Customization Still Rare
While a handful of companies have thus far created dedicated gay commercials, including Subaru of America and tourism bureaus for Philadelphia and Key West, the majority of LOGO's estimated $20 million in annual advertising revenues is general market commercials.
"Those that have created specific messages are more the exception than the rule," notes Tom Watson, VP-advertising sales at LOGO, now available in 27.5 million households. "Sometimes it doesn't matter, but it does if a commercial is romantic or sexual and heterocentric."
To determine what gay audiences liked best, LOGO commissioned Harris Interactive research and found that just a third of its viewers most preferred customized imagery in ads, the other two thirds said that advertisers being on LOGO in general was enough, and that what mattered most to them was the quality of the advertiser's product or service.
Watson says he's sometimes had to turn business down because an advertiser's ads were off the mark. He notes, "Relevant brand messages are always important."
mercredi, août 22, 2007
It makes good business sense to do this. Hopefully, these ads will not only run on LOGO and "gay" networks. The next step is to get these ads out on mainstream markets.