Ad Report Card: The Levi Bowl

The Super Bowl is still weeks away, but the advertising stunts have already begun. This year Levi’s, the jeans maker that for the last few years has struggled to recapture the once-effortless cachet that its brand used to enjoy, invites you, the ad-obsessed members of the general public, to help it decide which ad should run in the time slot they purchased during the game’s second quarter.

Now, I realize that in writing about this, I’m being used: The notion of democratizing the ad-selection process really boils down to voluntarily scrutinizing multiple commercial messages and encouraging you to do the same thing. It’s kind of a scam. On the other hand, since I was curious to get a look at the ads myself, I figured Ad Report Card readers might be interested as well. You can see the three choices here (using either Windows Media Player, RealPlayer, or Yahoo! Player), and you can also cast your vote or simply view the results so far.

Choice No. 1: To the tune of “Si Señor,” a funky nuevo-Latino track from the 1999 disc Artilleria Pesada: Presenta, a young Hispanic man in a white muscle shirt and headphones strides through a sun-soaked concrete cityscape. He wears a poker face and walks with unhurried confidence, wordlessly greeting friends and neighbors. Abruptly, as he crosses a traffic-heavy street, his legs explode in a set of quick, rubbery dance moves that seem to be happening in complete independence of his upper body. It’s reminiscent of the old Monty Python “Ministry of Silly Walks” bit. The rest of the spot consists of the guy alternating between these two states of motion: walking and dance-walking. His arms hang limply at his side either way, and he always stares straight ahead. My favorite passage is a several-second tracking shot of him walking past a window, casually scratching a spot on his arm; I can’t explain why. Anyway, the word “Lightweight” appears onscreen, then the spot closes on the words “Levi’s Flyweight Jeans,” which I guess refers to this subset of Levi product. The ad is titled “Crazy Legs.”

Choice No. 2: To the tune of the upbeat and dancey “Do Your Thing” by Basement Jaxx (from last year’s Rooty), a woman unzips her Levi’s, revealing a glimpse of scanty lavender underwear. From there the ad actually consists of a series of women taking off and putting on pairs of Levi’s. Their faces almost never appear, as the camera focuses on the body between the knees and the chest, with special attention paid to underwear, hips, and rear views. Repeated viewing reveals no additional elements to the spot, but that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? The words “Give your hips a hug,” appear onscreen, before the closing tag, “Levi’s Superlow Stretch.” The ad is called “Up and Down,” a title that I refuse to comment on.

Choice No. 3: To no tune whatsoever, a guy in a cowboy hat dismounts a mechanical bull after an apparently successful ride in one of those mega-sized honky-tonk places. A pack of hipsters encourage one of their number, who looks vaguely like Beck, to give the bull a try. He’s finally pushed out to the thing, awkwardly climbs on, and assumes the proper start position, one hand raised in the air. The machine gives half a buck and sends him hurtling across the room. The spot ends on the words “Levi’s Boot Fit Jeans.” Its title is “Bull.”

I’ve commented on Levi advertising before, at times finding it very good, and other times very creepy. How do these fare? Ad Report Card special adviser E. has recently referred to the “Bull” ad as her favorite on television right now. I like the spot, too, but it’s at a distinct disadvantage against the other two here because it’s already familiar—and American consumers like shiny, new things.

I also like the “Crazy Legs” spot quite a bit, although it’s the kind of ad that’s most effective the first time you see it, which makes me wonder about the wisdom of squandering the element of surprise that’s always been a crucial part of advertisers’ thinking about Super Bowl commercials. And then there’s “Up and Down.” You might think that this spot is another in a long line of commercial images shamelessly exploiting the female body. But no. A Levi’s press release explains that “This visual demonstrates how these jeans form to fit a variety of female figures.” Yes, it’s quite a variety, everything from slim, sexy white women to slim, sexy black women. Moreover, the release continues, if this spot wins then “history will be made, since it will be the first time an ad specifically targeted at women airs during the big game.” I see. So a vote for pictures of women taking their pants off is practically a feminist act. What will they think of next?

Anyway, as I write this the “Crazy Legs” ad is winning, with 37 percent of the votes cast so far. The voting ends on Jan. 27. So, which one did I vote for? Well, it’s one thing to make an endorsement in a political contest, but I don’t think the Ad Report Card should compromise its hard-won integrity by attempting to influence this contest. Either that, or I didn’t bother to vote at all. You decide.