Levi’s Viral ‘Unbuttons’ Reactions, Good and Bad

NEW YORK Levi’s hoped to generate buzz with its “Unbutton Your Beast” site, and early returns show it’s definitely succeeding.
The effort, which allows users to create and send to friends phallic “monsters” that pop out of Levi’s 501 jeans, has drawn lots of traffic and attention but also come under fire for its suggestiveness, with some charging it targets children.
In a sure sign the campaign has buzz, Jay Leno spoke about it during his Tonight Show monologue on Friday. Referring to one of the character options, Paul the Pincher, Leno said, “Let me tell you something, if you’ve got a crab claw coming out of your jeans, you might want to unleash some penicillin.”
At Unbuttonyourbeast.com, visitors can create an e-card by choosing one of nine different animated characters with names like Trout Troutman and Sock Nasty, which then pop out of the button-fly of 501 jeans. The effort is geared to young men just out of college, according to Levi’s. EVB in San Francisco fashioned the effort.
At launch, Levi’s exec Doug Sweeny admitted the effort “pushes boundaries” but said it is done in a lighthearted way. “We think the medium and what we’re talking about demands that,” he said.
Not everyone took “Unbutton” with a grain of salt, providing a textbook example of the rapid-fire spread of Internet memes. At its launch on Wednesday, several news outlets, including Adweek, covered it, along with industry and culture blogs.
Negative reviews soon began. On Stylist.com, Josh Loposer called it “so shocking and tasteless, it’s hard to believe.” The Drudge Report put a link to the site on its front page, saying it “raises eyebrows.” Reaction spread across the globe.
From there, “Unbutton” was picked up by several right-leaning blogs and news publications. The Daily Telegraph in Australia went so far as to call “Unbutton” “the raunchiest ad ever.” The American Decency Association on Saturday called for a boycott of Levi’s, calling the puppets “lewd, disgusting and dirty.” At a Christian spirituality blog, “mercyman53” termed it “devilish advertising” that could lead to “addiction to porn.”
The questions over the campaign’s propriety were not confined to right-leaning blogs. Fast Company called it “brazenly inappropriate” and a sign that the Levi’s brand is in trouble.
The chorus is not entirely negative. “Unbutton Your Beast” has received kudos from several sources for its cleverness. The Los Angeles Times Entertainment blog panned Drudge for fanning the flames of a fake controversy. “Subtle the ad is not, and it’s true that some will not love it, but ‘damage’? Somebody call Child Welfare!” Maria Russo wrote on Oct. 1.