Barbara Lippert’s Critique

From an ad perspective, last year’s Super Bowl smacked of The Gong Show, with a parade of amateur dot-commers gambling their whole futures—and marketing budgets—on one wacky appearance, desperate to get noticed, hoping not to get hooted off the stage. They dead.

Even those like E*Trade, which lived to return—the company claims the big buy “generated three great months for us”—did so in a screw-the-expectations way. The online broker’s spot featured a chimp dancing in a garage and the line, “Well, we just wasted two million bucks.”

Yet viewers still watch in earnest. They’ve been primed, since 1984, to gather in groups, eat, drink, yell and anticipate the greatest damn advertising ever made.

So cut to the chase—literally—because this year, Levi’s is appearing the Super Bowl for the first time. It’s a genius media buy—spending only for a 30-second spot during the game, but getting major play for the prequel and sequel on cable. And it’s a new finish—faded and abraded—on a recent product, so it makes sense to plug it.

True to the day, it will give us a big, action-packed piece of film. It’s the high-stakes story of a medical rescue! There’s a Fox-worthy helicopter takeoff and a terrifying ambulance journey, complete with siren wailing.

Will help arrive in time? Lest you get too anxious and teary, this comes from Levi’s, after all. In an attempt to slow its decline and get the kids back, the company’s recent ads have been hilarious. One features a love-sick badger, fatally attracted to the sound of a young man’s corduroy pants.

Plus, it’s funny—in a twisted, parallel-universe sort of way. Maybe not so funny if you’re in line for a heart or kidney transplant. The spot for Reissued Jeans (get it?) opens on a desolate parade ground, where a slacker guy has fallen off the tiny white pony of a minicarousel. He passes out.

A swat team descends. They look at his ID. “We’ve got a donor!” they scream, and the team goes into medi-vac mode. The precious cargo, his jeans, are packed in a cooler labeled “donor material.”

Cut to the bleak, remote house of the recipient and his personal sick-room. He lies on his tiny single bed in a fetal position, coughing. Tragically, he has a little picture of the jeans pasted to the wall. The team arrives with the Reissued 569s. He clutches them and cries, overwhelmed to get a second chance. He’s redeemed! Levi’s saves!

(Of course, the sequel takes pains to point out that the donor is not dead. But who wants another guy’s pants?)

As a film exercise, the spot is great. But it doesn’t have the dead-on eye for American satire—or the poignant humanity—of the preceding series of spots in the “Make Them Your Own” campaign, such as “Dressing Room” and “Karaoke.”

That’s because Traktor, the Swedish directing team, while brilliant at showing insane animals and human oddities (the badger and MTV’s Jukka Brothers), reflects our culture in a removed and alien way—a much grimmer picture than we’re prepared for.

Also, some of the action reminds me of Buddy Lee sequences for Lee Dungarees. Buddy got mixed up in a lot of violent stuff, but it was funny because he’s inanimate.

I couldn’t help thinking the life-saving procedure was a metaphor for reviving Levi’s itself. Fourth-quarter results, released last week, show the net sales decline is “slowing.”

Certainly, the humor is far more subtle than a dancing monkey. And I bet the public won’t reject it. Levi Strauss

“Jeans Donor”



San Francisco

Executive CD

Chuck McBride

Creative Director

Jon Soto


Jeff Labbe/Jon Soto

Executive Producer

Jennifer Golub

Assistant Producer

Jennifer Wallrapp