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Levi's Pulls Commercial

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LOS ANGELES After coming under fire from national non-profit rail safety group Operation Lifesaver, Levi Strauss & Co. has pulled a Bartle Bogle Hegarty spot that shows a woman riding a horse on railroad tracks, a Levi's representative said.

The spot, which was created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York, broke last month. In the ad, a woman and her steed test the laws of "gravity and reality" in a fantasy setting [Adweek, June 26]. They come out of a railroad tunnel and stop in the middle of the tracks. As a train approaches, the woman flies over it without a scratch.

Operation Lifesaver president Gerri Hall, along with partners from the highway and rail safety communities, sent a letter on Aug. 7 to Levi's chairman Bob Haas, urging the company to pull the ad, which it claims encourages risky behavior around trains. "I don't want to believe that Levi Strauss would intentionally produce an ad that would influence youth to put themselves in harm's way," said Hall, in a statement. "However, this is exactly what this ad does. It trivializes the dangerous, illegal and all-too-often tragic activity of playing on railroad tracks."

Levi's representative Amy Gemellaro said that since the spot represents less than 8 percent of the company's total media plan, Levi's decided to stop running it. "It's not worth the debate," she said. Levi's spent nearly $60 million in measured media last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

"We don't agree with them," said Gemellaro. "The spot depicts a fantasy and was never meant to be taken literally," she said, adding that research indicated consumers saw the spot as a fantasy. This is not the first time Operation Lifesaver has complained to Levi's about its ads. In 1999, the organization asked Levi's not to run a spot in which a blonde model took off her jeans and placed them on railroad tracks so that a train could turn them into cutoffs.

Operation Lifesaver claimed that Levi's changed its plan to air the spot during the Super Bowl and modified the spot. Gemellaro refuted that claim. She said a director's cut of the spot, which was "never intended to be put on TV," was leaked on the Internet. A modified version broke in February 2000, she said.