I remember a decade ago being so surprised that Walt Whitman had become a jeans spokesperson. Yes, that’s his own rich voice reading his poem America. I wasn’t certain how I felt about this, but then I thought bare chested gay poetry “…full of manly pride and friendship” might be interesting after all.
Millennials, that demographic of people born between 1981 to 1996, were tens of millions of Americans in their teens and 20s at the time of this ad campaign, and they were a market as hard for advertisers to figure out as it was alluring and lucrative.
Levi Strauss & Company came out with this campaign for its flagship Levi’s brand, hoping to appeal to those younger consumers with an ambitious call to: ”Go Forth”. A decade later, I am not sure if this generation heard that call, they are still hard to figure for a Boomer like me.
The campaign included television commercials that also ran online and in theatres; print advertisements; outdoor and transit signs and posters; social media sites, and a contest on the brand’s own website.
The campaign was supposed to boost the image of the Levi’s brand as much as sell 501 button-fly jeans. The hope was that Go Forth would resonate with those Millennial the same way their campaigns like 501 Blues successfully appealed to their parents two decades earlier.
The Go Forth campaign was heavy on Americana imagery, keeping with research indicating Millennials are patriotic and optimistic about America. The elements included the poetry of Whitman, declarations of independence, salutes to hard work and, in the star-spangled tradition of American advertising: copious amounts of young male flesh. Phrases in the print ads suggest an aesthetic grounded in common sense during tough times.
The campaign was the first work for Levi’s from Portland’s own Wieden & Kennedy. The commercials were directed by M. Blash and Cary Fukunaga, and the print ads were shot by Ryan McGinley, Millennials all.
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,Walt Whitman
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.