Iconic Ads: Levi’s 501 – Drugstore

levis drugstore

This classic showcased the watch pocket using a story with an aspirational protagonist and a dramatic presentation of the product’s features

Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s (BBH) work for Levi’s between 1985 and 1998 was one of the most honoured and acclaimed in the advertising industry. It crafted a fantastical America of silent, mysterious heroes, carefree youth, and chic sophistication. And it sold a great many pairs of jeans.

Although the history of Levi’s campaign served as its inspiration, it was not a list of dates and facts. The ads were designed to appeal to the audience’s emotions first and foremost. It evoked images of smart youth, insouciance, and sexual tension. Freedom, escape, romance, and defiance were all possibilities.

Without using a single word of dialogue, the commercials managed to express the whole range of emotions that were intended.

It was evident that customers sought logical explanations to support their ideas—to others and themselves—even if the campaign’s initial persuasive impact was emotional.

Ads for jeans have long featured models in fashionable surroundings while also highlighting the jeans’ strength, durability, and features. The 501s became better with age and wear. In addition, they improved with each wash.

In the hands of imaginative groups, such tales proved to be fertile ground for the development of novel concepts. Hegarty even called it an “emotional product demonstration.”

The stakes for maintaining novelty and excitement increased with each new campaign iteration.

The commercials were well-balanced. It kept its framework, consisting of a story with an aspirational protagonist and a dramatic presentation of the product’s features. The place, era, tone, film style, and specific product narrative were all subject to ongoing restyling while it was being made.

“Drugstore” was geared towards Generation X in the 1990s. Nick Worthington and John Gorse came up with the idea for the commercial. They worked on the creative concept around 10 years prior, and they used to keep coming back to it every year. For some reason or the other, it used to be rejected. It was finally accepted in 1995.

It featured a young man who buys condoms to keep in the watch pocket of his Levi’s jeans (a feature Levi’s introduced in 1873) and later calls on his girlfriend, only to discover that her father is the chemist who sold him the condoms.

The commercial stands out from previous technique-based adaptations because of its exceptional level of filming. The central idea of the writing was a joke in the style of Benny Hill.

The film’s brilliant director, Michel Gondry, was tapped to give it flair and polish. Walker Evans’ documentary work from the 1930s influenced Gorse when he created the image. Winston Link’s black-and-white photographs documenting the last days of steam trains in America also provided the impetus. They went for a spooky, ghostly vibe by using a modern electronic score by Biosphere.

The Cohen Brothers had been given the screenplay but decided to back out at the last minute. Michel was a relative newcomer back then. To capture the real impression of a period long gone, they had to source ancient black-and-white material. However, only scraps on dusty old reels remained. This explains the methods used. Stock in very little pieces, taped together. Gondry also constructed a contraption that mimicked the hand-cranked mechanics of the early cameras to get the flicker effect of the pre-war great films.

What came out was timeless.

Later, they also recorded a gender-switch version in which a young lady instead of a guy makes the condom purchase.

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