The opening bars of Marvin Gaye’s hit I Heard It Through The Grapevine are among the most evocative in television advertising history. For a whole generation, at least, those first few moody seconds only bring one image to mind – that of model Nick Kamen walking into a launderette. The ad might not have been set in the eighties (more likely a mythical fifties), but for many those first few seconds can evoke memories of an entire decade. But Nick Kamen (who only got the part on condition he lost weight) wasn’t the first to get his kit off in a launderette. An early Hamlet ad showed a bowler-hatted, be-suited gent undressing in front of a group of women and sticking his clothes, and even his hat, in a washing machine. Sadly, no one remembers the actor’s name. And, as far as we know, he never had a hit single written for him by Madonna…
Kamen’s “Lauderette” was shown for the first time on Boxing Day 1985. Thought up by John Hegarty and Barbara Noakes of BBH, the ad campaign was designed to try and save Levi’s flagging fortunes; the company was under attack from all sorts of other fashionable brands. In short, Levi’s (which had been going since the 1850s) were becoming the sort of jeans worn by people’s dads. And not even trendy dads – it was middle-aged “fuddy duddies” wearing “polyester Levi’s Action Slacks”. Research showed that the intended target audience for Levi’s 501 (15 to 19 year olds) saw the United States of the fifties and sixties as cool time and place in history: James Dean, Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke all belonged to this mythical, wondrous world. Unless the ad agencies came up with something new, the alternative was going with the American campaign for 501, which was all about how well the jeans fitted in the United States of Ronald Reagan. The image seemed the opposite of MTV and European chic.
So, director Roger Lyons was given the go-ahead to film an ad that showed drop dead gorgeous model Nick Kamen stripping down to his boxer shorts, while flustered women and bemused elders looked on, and then sitting and waiting while his jeans were in the wash. All this and Marvin Gaye thrown in too. (Except it wasn’t actually Marvin Gaye but a newly recorded “session” version of the song, though the original was later re-released off the back of the ad and entered the charts all over again…). “Grapevine” was the first of four Levi’s-related songs to all make the Top Ten, a feat that made advertisers realise that choosing the right music was of paramount importance because it really could help push a product on TV. They call it “Integrated Marketing”, and it meant a single in the chart and an ad on the box simultaneously, as well as the 501 logo alongside the artist’s name on the record sleeve in every record shop in Britain and USA.
Kate Thornton, a famous English journalist, was a schoolgirl at the time and remembers the effect that Kamen’s striptease had on her: “I remember that the ad was running at a cinema before a movie, and I hadn’t seen it on the tely at that point. So I went to the cinema just to see the ad…” she says. “The commercial made those jeans sexy at a time when Levi’s were struggling to make their product appealing to women of my age, and really that’s where the big spenders come from. Suddenly those jeans became a must-heve item! I only wanted them because Nick Kamen wore them and took them off…”
Thornton wasn’t the only teenager to feel that away. Consumers wrote in to Levi’s in their thousands asking for picture of Kamen. Meanwhile, sales of 501 shot up by an incredible 800% in the wake of the ad, which eventually had to be taken off the air because the Company couldn’t produce enough jeans to meet the new demand… By 1987 sales of Levi’s jeans were reported to be 20 times what they had been just three years earlier. The commercial also boosted sales of boxer shorts to a record high, though the ad agency only put Kamen in a pair of boxers because they weren’t allowed to show their hero in a pair of jockeys. And it wasn’t just teenage girl buying the jeans: boys were impressed by what Kamen could do. “The ad said: wear Levi’s jeans and you’ll be a rebel without a cause!” says psychologist Dr David Lewis. “You’ll be able to alienate older people (who young people despite anyway) and you can be cool…”
Inevitably, Nick Kamen was suddenly flavour of the month. Madonna wrote a song for him called “Each Time You Break My Heart” which made it into Top Ten. Kamen was soon a fully-fledged pop star, but his new career was short lived. Subsequent singles failed and Kamen moved to Los Angeles where he was to live for a time with British television presenter Amanda de Cadenet. “There wasn’t life for Nick Kamen after Levi’s because he broke the rule…he talked!” says Thornton. “We just liked looking at him. It was as simple as that. He was a model and he just had these smouldering beautiful looks… but fundamentally he was to be looked at and lusted over, and never to be taken seriously…”. Nick Kamen turned a new Levi’s ad into a much-hyped media event and ended up eventually being replaced in 1999 by a fluffy yellow pupped called Flat Eric…
(Mark Robinson, The Sunday Times)
Advertising Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Creative: John Hegarty, Greg Mills, Barbara Nokes
Director: Roger Lyons
Production: Mike Dufficy & Partners
Director of Photography: Richard Greatrex
Editor: Ian Weil
Music: Karl Jenkins, Mike Ratledge
What are the reasons behind a successful commercial – is it the craft, the execution or great story telling, and what has made campaigns stand out over decades? On the fifth day of the 59th International Festival of Creativity, Sir John Hegarty, worldwide creative director and Dan Wieden, co-founder and global executive creative director, Wieden+Kennedy (W+K) discussed the elements that make a campaign successful, while speaking on the topic, ’30 years of creative chaos’.
“I have enormous empathy for Dan’s work…,” Hegarty said. “I remember when I suddenly started seeing this work—Instant Karma—coming out of this American agency for Nike. I had to find out who they were. Where are they? Portland, Oregon? Where is Oregon?”
The session started by talking about Nike’s long term association with W+K, and how over the years the sports brand has worked with the agency, trusting and believing in its every work. To this, Wieden said, “Nike is a very different client as the company does not believe in airing one TVC several times. Interestingly, the company also does not believe in advertising, it believes in creating an experience. When I came to know about this, I enquired about this quite unique approach. The company representative replied, ‘You never write the same letter twice, then why the same spot?”
Agreeing with him, Sir Hegarty cited the example of the Nike commercial featuring golfer Tiger Woods. ”Earl and Tiger” ad for Nike Golf, which aired in the wake of the golfer’s sex scandal. It shows a stoic Woods looking into the camera as his late father, heard in voiceover, urges him to reflect on his life. He said, “In order to break away from the usual and to create something unusual, a brand has to be constantly brave. A brave brand will be ready to take risks, and will further allow the agency to create unusual and interesting campaigns.”
Sir Hegarty next talked about the ‘Go forth’ TVC for Levis by W+K, called ‘America’s challenging time’. “There are times when due to the scale, it becomes difficult to use one language to unify different countries with different dialects. In such situations, one needs to conceptualise one single idea, which will bring everybody to a common platform,” he remarked.
Wieden, in turn, first became aware of Hegarty’s work with the Levi’s ad of “a young man walking into a laundry room and taking off his clothes.” “You keep stumbling across opportunities, an idea reveals itself within an idea,” said Hegarty on the inspiration behind the ad. “In a Levi’s ad there’s always someone getting dressed or undressed.”
But, how the foundation client has overpowered the agency’s business?
According to Wieden, in case of W+K, Nike was the only visible client for a long time and while the agency had the business of a small radio station from Portland, the fact is that its survival was mainly dependent on one client; this made the agency uncomfortable. So, while foundation clients are important for any agency, there is also a need to branch out.
Next, speaking on the power of creativity, Sir Hegarty elaborated, “Advertising is 80 per cent idea and 20 per cent execution – and we live in a world of YouTube – where everyone can make everything, so it is important to be both perfect in detailing and in storytelling.”
Adding to his view point, Wieden said, “Emotions need to be depicted in the right form and it is not necessary that one always has to go the social media way to depict emotions. Rather, telling simple stories with great emotions can move the consumers.”
But sometimes ideas aren’t enough and it’s the execution that pulls the ad through, commented Hegarty on W+K’s “Best Job” TV commercial for P&G. “If you had passed me the script I think I might have vomited. You Americans, you wade around in this treacle of emotion…” said Hegarty wryly. “But the way you [Wieden] executed it really worked….The vomit factor was high…but the directing worked.” “It’s the power of storytelling, you’ve got to make sure the emotions are relevant and just let yourselves be swept up by it,” agreed Wieden.
Sir Hegarty discussed the campaign called ‘Dean Savage’ for Google Chrome, and how it turned a brand which is usually perceived to be unemotional to emotional. “Some of the best advertising, is not advertising”, continued Hegarty, referring to Google Chrome’s support of the ” It gets better” initiative. The work done by BBH NY could have easily backfired on the company, said Hegarty. “We tried to put it into a place that wasn’t advertising, that was part of the social fabric of life.”
“When you do your job right, you add something to the value of the brand, not just for the audience but for the people who work there,” commented Wieden. “Google is perceived as a less emotional group of people but when a spot like that comes out, it humanises them.”
Sir Hegarty next focused on the importance of motivation. “In this industry, one gets motivated via competition’s work. The ‘Old Spice’ ad is a spectacular example of good work and when I watched it I felt jealous. However, two minutes later, I was determined to do better work for Axe. Therefore, in order to do great work, we need competition to succeed, as then at that time even clients fuel up, which further motivates to create good work,” he noted.
“When truly great work happens, and it isn’t yours, the gut instinct is to hate it with a passion”, said Hegarty. “I remember the moment one of our account people came to me and said, ‘John, I think you’d better have a look at this,”—it was the first ad for Old Spice. “You know something’s great when you really really f***ing hate it. I hated it. I stood up, looked at this ad and thought, ‘Who did that? Is it W+K? SHIT! OhSHIT!’.” Then Hegarty recalled running out of the office and yelling for the latest scripts for Axe, their agency’s rival brand to Old Spice. “We had to do better! The better they do! The better we do! Great creativity drives each other, two people run a race faster than alone.” The Old Spice ads were a prime example of great writing, he concluded.
“I had the same hateful reaction when the Xbox ‘Life’s too Short’ spot came out,” admitted Wieden.
Like the Levi’s laundry ad, the Xbox commercial was entirely done without script, noted Wieden. “It was the craft of the spot that pulled it completely into superspace.” Commercials like these are only possible when clients are brave, said Hegarty. “You can imagine us presenting this to Xbox, ‘She’s got her legs like this… and…’ The client rejected it, but we got it posted online and it went viral—never give up, keep pushing.”
The two agencies have even ‘swapped’ clients. BBH resigned Nike which went to W+K and BBH won Guardian off W+K. The result of the change was the Levi’s Go Forth ad and Guardian’s Gold Lion-winning “Three Little Pigs commercial. “I’m pleased that Levi’s went to you and not the agency before us, which I cannot name, but they produced unutterable crap,” chuckled Hegarty. “W+K, however, told Levi’s story in a powerful and compelling way.”
Taking the example of the commercial for the UK-based newspaper, The Guardian, Sir Hegarty said, “It is all about the art of storytelling and we should master how to tell the simplest of the stories in the most interesting way.”
Asked how the industry should evolve and improve, both men, not surprisingly, said it’s all about the quality of the work. “Make the bloody work better,” Hegarty said. “I keep going on about it. We must be the only industry in the world that actually thinks you can succeed when the work’s getting worse. There’s empirical evidence in the U.K. that our audience believes the advertising has gotten worse. … Obviously, Cannes is about this question. But what are we doing about it? How are we working to make the work better?”
“It needs to be honest, too,” said Wieden. “There’s so much strategy sometimes, and all this bullshit. What is the emotional essence of this issue right now? And clients, I think, sometimes have to look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘Who have we become? How do we get back to where we used to be?’ “
1954. European cinema contractors launch the Festival to celebrate great cinema advertising. The first Cannes Grand Prix goes to a spot called “Il Circo” from Italy’s Ferry Mayer for Chlorodont toothpaste.
1992. The Press and Poster category introduced. McCann-Erickson Milan is awarded first Grand Prix in the category for its Levi’s campaign.
Advertising Agency: McCann-Erickson Italia
Creative Director: Milka Pogliani
Copywriter: Alessandro Canale
Art Director: Stefano Colombo
Photographer: Graham Ford
Good Luck Italy.
1 – Axe Deodorant
2 – Dom Francisco Reastaurant
3 – Tide
4 – Volkswagen New Beatle
5 – Volkswagen
6 – Wonderbra
7 – McDonalds
8 – Kolner Zoo
9 – Pasta Adria
10 – Heineken
11 – Miller Beer
12 – Yemeksepeti.com (food delivery)
13 – Straps Lingerie Store
14 – British Airways
15 – Tampax
16 – Puma
17 – NW Nutrient Water
18 – Sexy Avenue.com
19 – Levi’s
20 – New Scientist
21 – Nissan Micra
22 – Playstation
23 – After Eden Lingerie
24 – Camper
25 – Predector (Pregnant Test)
26 – Is Kultur Bookstores
27 – Renault
28 – Parmalat Yogurbelt 0% fat
29 – Toyota
30 – Swatch
31 – SpotG Sexy Shop
32 – Canal+
33 – BMW Motorrad
34 – HOG Singapore Valentine Ride
35 – Brave Heart Fund – Children Heart Center
36 – Brasil Telecom
37 – Valentine’s and Coronary Patient Day
38 – Kiss Radio 102.1 fm
39 – Barrashopping – Shopping Mall
40 – DeBeers
41 – DIM Underwear
42 – Chevrolet
43 – Sedal Shampoo
44 – Bavaria Beer
45 – Nescafè
46 – Motorola
47 – Ducati
48 – Alfa Romeo
49 – Nakshatra Diamond
50 – Absolut Vodka
51 – Oreo
52 – Conrad Treasury Casinò
53 – McCann Helthcare
54 – Orkoss Restaurant
55 – La Benedicta Restaurant
56 – Wilkinson
57 – Seat
58 – Durex
59 – Wurst
60 – Avon
61 – Wellington Zoo
Judged even against the impressive stable of Levis commercials dating back to the early 80s, “Creek” is a true thoroughbred.
Ever since Bartle Bogle Hegarty created launderette, its first breakthrough spot for the brand, successive films have transformed the image of Levis as old-fashioned and uncool and made it market leader, creating huge amounts of PR along the way.Creek took the brand back to its roots in 1850s America. Shot in moody black and white, the commercial features what appears to be an Amish family picnicking in a remote spot.
The two daughters drift of to a nearby creek where they see a pair of jeans on a rock while their apparently naked owner bathes. As the soundtrack music reaches a crescendo the man emerges from the water to reveal that he is wearing a pair of jeans and shrinking them to fit. The owner of the jeans turns out to be a scruffy old man.
Agency: BBH, London
Writer: Nick Worthington
Art director: John Gorse
Directors: Vaughan & Anthea
Production company: Lewin & Watson
A classic from the BBH stable, this ad announces the launch of the first Levi’s stonewashed jeans. It’s 1950s small town USA, a GI stands watching the girls. Behind him a man walks into a launderette carrying a bag of small rocks which he pours into one of the machines. He then proceeds to remove his clothes down to his boxers and socks, and put them in the machine. A thoroughly honed physique is admired by all as he takes his seat against the wall. Levi’s: Now available stonewashed
Levi’s looked a most unpromising account when it arrived at the fledgling Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 1982.
The brand was perceived as old fashioned and, at a time of much anti-American feeling, uncool.
The launderette commercial, promoting Levi’s classic 501s, was the breakthrough.
John Hegarty and the writer Barbara Nokes recreated an image of 50s Americana that presented 501s as alternative to punk’s scruffiness.The spot wasn’t only beautifully shot but had humour and sex appeal in the form of teen idol Nick Kamen.
It was also an early example of successful integrated marketing. Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine soundtrack was re-released with the Levi’s logo on the record sleeve and shot into the charts.
As for Levi’s sales, they had soared by 800 per cent within a year of the 501s re-launch.
Agency: Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH)
Creative: John Hegarty; Greg Mills; Barbara Nokes
Director: Roger Lyons
Production: Mike Dufficy & Partners
Director of Photography: Richard Greatrex
Editor: Ian Weil
Music: Karl Jenkins, Mike Ratledge