Levi's cast a pair of its classic 501 jeans as the star of an epic tale spanning 50 years. The work breaks worldwide this week, part of the brand's "Buy Better. Wear Longer" campaign focused on sustainability.
Now, this pants-as-hero concept could have backfired, badly, if Levi's had chosen to animate the pants in some goofy way. Or worse, given that denim the power of speech. Yuck.
Thankfully, a :60 from AKQA San Francisco and Megaforce director Leo Berne goes in an entirely different direction. It delivers a fluid, visually dynamic story as a very real pair of pants passes from person to person across generations.
The jeans age, fade and tear but hold their shape, providing comfort and stylish wear as the times change around them:
"The idea of the jeans being the main character came out of a first-person script we wrote in the early stages of concepting—quite literally, a pair of jeans reflecting on the life it lived," AKQA creative director Bryan Dempster tells Muse. "It was a bit on the nose and, frankly, weird. Through countless discussions, the simple idea that jeans that last for a really long time have their own life experience—and that experience is proof of a more sustainable existence—started to crystallize."
The film features one pair of jeans throughout. AKQA worked with Bart Sights, Levi's head of innovation, to realistically age a pair of shrink-to-fit 501s (introduced in the 1970s and still sold today).
"They use a technology called FLX combined with some analog methods to create the wear the world demands," Dempster explains. "We made seven 'stages' of product that follow the progression of wear."
These stages appear in the film:
- 1960s—Brand new, rolling out at the factory.
- 1970s—With light wear and wallet marks when the 501s are purchased at a surplus store.
- 1980s—More aging and rolled cuffs for a pool party sequence.
- 1990s—Heavy fading while camping in the great outdoors.
- 2000s—Patched with a ripped knee, nodding to skate culture and clubbing.
- 2010s—Split-hem customization for the running scene.
- 2022—In a thrift shop, customized and aged to perfection.
Here's a behind-the-scenes reel about the spot's creation:
"The campaign speaks to Levi's legacy, durability and appeal to a broad global audience," says Karen Riley-Grant, global CMO at the brand. "A pair of Levi's ages beautifully. They're timeless and versatile, yet fashionable—no matter the decade. This message is more relevant today than ever before, when we're all thinking how we can contribute to a more sustainable future."
From a business perspective, the venerable brand seeks to accelerate its recent momentum. Parent company Levi Strauss projects revenue growth of up to 8 percent through the next five years, with heightened outreach to Gen Z and young millennials through e-commerce.
"We found that 79 percent of consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on social responsibility, inclusiveness or environmental impact," says AKQA senior client director Mark Hurley. "And 81 percent of consumers globally feel strongly that companies should do more to preserve the environment.
"Younger consumers want to buy from companies that walk the walk, not just tell them to be more sustainable," Hurley says. "By focusing on the long-lasting quality of Levi's, we're showing that we know we have a responsibility to create more sustainable products, just like consumers have a responsibility to buy less of them and wear them longer. Striking this tone and showing accountability is important for our audience, and it's why we think this campaign will really land."
Still, it might be tough for casual viewers to fully absorb the time-spanning storyline without repeat viewings or calendar years rolling by on screen. Despite its scope, the execution feels a tad subtle.
"The film is loaded with various nods to the different eras, from the styling to hairstyles to the sound design all the way to the props and settings," Dempster says. "These cues give the viewer space to interpret the passing of time in their own way and relate to different moments they inevitably connect with in their own Levi's story."
"We saw some of the strongest testing results on this spot that Levi's has ever seen in their long history of making iconic work," adds Hurley. "Consumers found the ad to be highly breakthrough, differentiated, and most importantly, they clearly connected the story of the jeans lasting throughout the years to a sustainability message."
Dates do play into some OOH elements:
Chris Jackman - VP, Global Brand Marketing
Rachel Sundberg - Dir. Global Brand Marketing
Ashley Puma - Senior Manager, Global Digital
Emily Finney - Assistant Manager of Global Digital Initiatives
Chad Hinson - VP, Global Brand Creative
Renee Perdomo – Director, Global Creative
Sarah Coburn - Art Director
Robin Lenhart - Associate Copy Director
Tim McDonell - Executive Creative Director
Bryan Dempler - Creative Director
Eli Tan - Creative Director
Laura Pol - Senior Art Director
Angelique Herring - Senior Designer
Hunter Patrick – Senior Art Director
Alexis Justman - Senior Copywriter
Mark Hurley - Senior Client Director
Patrick Gregory - Senior Client Manager
Heather Harlow - Executive Producer
Ana Puig - Program Manager
Leo Berne - Director
Clement Gallet – Director
Charles-Marie Anthonioz - Managing Director
Valerie Romer - Executive Producer
Richard Weager - Producer
Justin Brown - DOP
Rachael Wang - Stylist