The “Odyssey” commercial for Levi’s showcased engineered jeans. It revived the battered image and reclaimed the once-lost youth market.
To follow up on the success of ‘Twist,’ Levi’s asked Bartle Bogle Hegarty in 2002 for a new ad campaign for Levi’s Engineered Jeans. As their first major innovation away from their standard 501 and five-pocket design, Levi Strauss introduced the twisted side seam. Since the sales of its 501 jeans were declining, it created this new sub-brand to attract a new generation of consumers.
When it came to Levi’s jeans, the “Jeremy Clarkson effect” scared away potential young customers because of the brand’s connection with chubby, middle-aged males.
The brief was to “Bring dramatic attention to how Levi’s engineered jeans are ergonomically designed to fit the contours of your body.”
Levi’s engineered jeans were to be marketed to impressionable 14–24-year-olds as a way to boost sales. BBH had figured out a key insight: that this demographic wanted to live life without constraints.
The brief reached Gavin Lester and Anthony Goldstein who conceived the idea. The idea was pretty quick to arrive at, and they took inspiration from movies like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Fight Club”. Typically, in agency circles, a script is written. However, this time around, they created a narrative visual board of the idea to bring the concept to life.
Jonathan Glazer, one of advertising’s most celebrated filmmakers, directed the film, which was filmed in Budapest and finished at Framestore, a British animation company. The project, which reportedly cost £2.5 million ($3 million) and took six months to complete, serves as a monument to the power of commercial cinema while also redefining what a commercial might be. A mixture of real-world effects and cutting-edge computer images were used in this film.
Nicolas Duvauchelle plays a young guy who unlocks a door, steps back, and emotionally prepares himself for the odyssey ahead. Then he takes off. This room’s door was opened, followed by rooms after that by openings in the walls. Another runner, a lady (played by Antoinette Sugier), joins him as he bursts into each vacant room. They finally come to a halt, exhausted. They exchange a quick look as they get ready for the next leg of the adventure – out of the outer brick wall, up through the trees and into the sky, it’s there.
In order to achieve a realistic performance, Glazer had the two performers sprint through 16 imaginary walls at full speed, creating actual smoke and particle effects. The original ending was going to be the building that they smashed through collapsing at the very end. However, due to 9/11, Lester & Goldstein had to find a new ending, and director Jonathan Glazer helped provide it.
On the first day of the shoot, the models discovered that far from allowing them ‘freedom to move’, they could barely walk in them, let alone jump or fly. The jeans had to be sent back to be redesigned to fit before shooting could continue.
Framestore’s creative director, Murray Butler, said that the filming was so taxing that he “nearly couldn’t complete the commercial.”
For the first time, Levi’s used classical music in one of their commercials, a departure from its usual use of pop tunes; “Sarabande” from Handel’s Solo Harpsichord Suite in D Minor is the soundtrack for a 60-second commercial that has no dialogue. The tagline “Freedom to move” sums it up well in the end.
The sound and music were designed/engineered by Johnny Burn and arranged by John Altman, who used a late-classical chamber orchestra—22 strings, flute, clarinet, bassoon, three French horns, and timpani.
Negating the Clarkson Effect, the new Levi’s Engineered Jeans was mythologized by the Odyssey as something that may let you break through walls, float into the air, and race up trees.
A 200% increase in sales, particularly among 14–24 year-olds, and “the company’s fastest line to one million units in history.”
Special thanks to Gavin Lester for giving me the key insights.