Walt Whitman says buy Levis

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By Corinne Love / Opinions Editor

Go Whitman (Library of Congress and Levi Strauss)

By Corinne Love / Opinions Editor

If Walt Whitman were living today, he would buy Levis. Or at least this is what the new “Go Forth” campaign is telling consumers.
The commercials are  like mini epic movies.
A couple runs free through the American wilderness.
A stark black and white image of a sign reading “America” floats through black water. Fireworks explode through the sky while a hurried succession of images speeds past the viewer.
All the while this is happening, a scratch recording of American Poet Walt Whitman reads from the classic “O Pioneers.”
The poem has long been an classic and a staple of Whitman’s poetry that dealt with American living as well as nature.
Some critics are appalled that Whitman’s words have been used for a campaign of this kind, attributing that it does not represent what Whitman’s  work stood for at all. In a way, perhaps they are right, but it deserves a closer look.
Whitman was a decidedly American poet, using his surroundings to create evocative poetry. One doesn’t need to hone up on their rhetoric skills to be able to grasp some of the concepts in his poetry.
Whitman called up American ideals like independence and diligence. It’s fitting that Levis would use his work for their campaign.
While Levis is a brand, and one’s first initial reaction to anything being sold is to resist with fervor, Levis has been active in putting its money where its prospective mouth is. For example, the company has various charities that they support, most notably  its work in South Africa’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The themes explored in the new campaigns are gutsy to say the least, in one commercial a gay couple is shown holding hands.
Levis is taking the “Go Forth” campaign very seriously.
The brand, an American icon, has always used edginess and subcultures to sell their products.
Like everything in marketing though, when selling a “product” it’s not just selling a product but a lifesyle.
The lifestyle being sold is one that Levis hopes is in the business of change. Last year the campaign was “Live Unbuttoned.”
Those adverts featured young, lithe, models running around urban areas engaging in spontaneous behavior.
The adverts seemed to have spoken to consumers at the time to live it up and live spontaneously. The new advertisements for “Go Forth” are anything but.
It’s not a surprise that the recent economy troubles have left many with a sour taste; during the recession many companies had to rethink entire marketing strategies.
The “Go Forth” commercials play up to some of the hidden and not so hidden fears that American youth may have today.
 In one of the scenes for the lengthy commercial, a man in a drab business suit sits uninspired at his desk.
In another version of the commercial, he is chased by an angry group of young people.
Is this supposed to represent how, as young Americans we feel capitalism has let us down?
The commercials aired earlier this year in movie theaters as vignettes and received mixed results.
It was reported that many viewers were left in awe, and someone actually yelled out “It’s just a pair of jeans!”
A $238 pair of jeans. Make no mistake about it, Levis jeans are some of the more expensive brands of jeans on the market.
The “Go Forth” campaign slyly eases over this well known fact, and instead narrows in on this sense of “exploration” that young adults should take.
Along with a bewitching commercial (directed by Cary Fukunaga) on the official LevisWeb site, there is the opportunity to win $100,000.
A subset of the Web site labeled “The New American,” boasts that the campaign is about the “promise” of America and that’s probably where Fukazawa decided to use Whitman’s oft read piece of American promise, “O Pioneers.”
Also on the Web site, site visitors can participate in user content by adding their own audio, video words, and images to contribute to the overall “Go Forth” theme.
There is also the option of selecting a task, which calls upon users to submit a photo of the consumers wearing Levis in a place they’ve never been before.
There are even windows where an “edit” of the Declaration of Independence is possible. It’s extremely clever marketing.
While many companies have long tried to tap into the sentiments of the public, very rarely has it been accurate.
These commercials acknowledge discontentment in America.
And through advertising, (yes advertising) the company is trying to stir in its consumers a willingness to be pioneers.
After all, this is what the country was founded on, ideally.
Notably, while the “Go Forth” campaign is distinctly American, Levis is now a global company.
What does that mean for the international consumer?
On the Web site, Levis global branches share a similar outlook with its USA counterpart.
The message rings clear, everyone is in need of innovation. Levis Latin America division is also using the “Go Forth” campaign.
 Whitman’s words of promise and the ability to pioneer still inspire, even if it is to sell a $238 pair of jeans.
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