Levi Strauss Australia and New Zealand is attracting serious heat from social media users incensed by its latest men's ad. ‘Live In Music’, created with relatively new agency partners Monster Children Creative, went live last week and features videos of 12 men involved in the music industry doing what they do dressed in denim.
The sticking points? All 12 are white, for one thing; but it's this accompanying tagline claiming "these guys invented the music scene" that is truly striking the off note, particularly in light of the disconcerting recent debates around gender equality in the Australian music industry.
Levi's was forced to issue an apology on Monday after Lorrae McKenna, general manager at the Melbourne record label Our Golden Friend, sparked a Twitterstorm with a damning post on Medium titled ‘I love my job, I don’t love misogyny’. The language the ad uses, she said, was “completely inappropriate” and painted “the music industry as a male dominated scene, a scene that ‘these guys invented.’”
One of the artists involved in the campaign, musician Anthonie Tonnon, even replied to her post in support, saying: "I think everything you've said is reasonable, you're right, and it's important that it's said".
'Live In Music', set to run across out of home, print and digital platforms, is the first Levi's ad to target men in seven years and follows the brand’s appointment of youth-focused agency Monster Children Creative in May last year.
Chris Searl, creative director at Monster Children, said when the ad was first released: “The industry talent featured in the campaign are all people we know and respect, and it was great to bring them together with Levi’s to celebrate the brand in a really genuine and authentic way.”
This insular approach to casting seems a strange thing to boast about, particularly in light of the ensuing comments on the ad's shocking lack of diversity. It was corroborated in an Instagram post by Maclay Heriot, a music photographer featured in the ad:
As well as being singularly non-'creative', Monster Children's choice to feature all their friends in the campaign, rather than a range of people who truly reflect the diversity of the music scene, may explain why they remained so blind to the shallowness of its message.
Monster's Children has failed to reply to repeated requests for comment by Campaign on this subject.
Levi's doesn't appear to be overly concerned: by brand standards the apology it posted, below, was very much of the "sorry if you think we did something wrong" variety. It missed the point, however. Most of the people complaining about the ad were not suggesting there should be women in it - after all, the ad is for a men's line - but that it shouldn't have portrayed these men as the sole inventors of the music scene.
In later replies to comments on this post, Levi's dodged a straight reply on whether the ad would be changed but did say it would be releasing a 'dual gender brand camaign' on August 18.
More Levi's controversies
- This is not, of course, the first time the 164-year-old denim brand has landed itself in a stink through its advertising. In 2001 it was condemned by organ donor groups in America for an ad aired at the US Super Bowl showing doctors removing a pair of Levi's jeans from a dead man and transferring them to a second, critically ill man.
- And in 2010, during an attempt to promote their 'Curve ID' line for different body sizes - tagline 'All curves are not created equally' - Levi's was also criticised for using three identically slim models front-and-centre in their campaign.
- Finally, in 2011, as the UK faced a summer of rioting and unrest in major cities, the brand felt it was the right time to launch 'Legacy', part of its 'Go Forth' series, which showed scenes of couples kissing and girls dancing alongside films of demonstrations and riot protest. The campaign ended up being postponed.