I’m starting to use “collecting dots” as an excuse/motivation for doing anything and everything that I wouldn’t usually do.
Last night my friend from uni, Charlie, who I haven’t seen for four years invited me to a “dance event” that her housemate choreographs. It started as “we should catch up, let’s do something Saturday” and gradually evolved in to “we are going to Infernos in Clapham”. Clubs gross me out a little bit. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked on them too much or maybe it’s because I don’t like being pushed and shoved and grabbed by strangers. But Charlie insisted and I reluctantly agreed. And then a couple of days ago she admitted what kind of show it was. It’s the kind of show only hen parties go to. Have you ever seen Magic Mike? Neither have I but that’s what this was.
She told me the details once I’d already committed. Instantly my mind starting whirring with excuses in the style of “washing my hair”. Normally with these kind of things I’ll just pretend I have a group project due on Monday. But Marc talks a lot about collecting dots. This event is one I would never choose to go to in a million years. Filled with people I would never otherwise meet. So despite everything I decided to go. Maybe I would learn something.
I spent the entire show laughing a little awkwardly while the rest of the room screamed. There were nine ripped topless men on stage dancing like Channing Tatum. A young Chinese couple were sat next to us at the start and they promptly left less than five minutes in. I think they might have been tourists who gauged the entertainment wrongly and it ended up not being exactly what they were looking for. Until they left, the guy was the only man in the audience. Everyone else in the room was wearing pink sashes and glitter. It was completely predictable with a little sprinkling of cringe. Until the last act.
The presenter says some kind of sexist joke about washing machines on the stage and the fact that they’re not real because if they were the men wouldn’t know how to operate them.
The curtains open.
The men all come out wearing jeans with button flies.
“Heard it through the grapevine” starts.
Their t-shirts come off.
Their belts come off.
Their Levis end up in the fake washing machines.
Soon enough they were doing backflips and press ups in their white boxers.
I couldn’t believe it.
I reluctantly agree to go to a so-called “male variety show” and ad-land follows me. (Before you ask, no, it wasn’t that kind of show. The boxers stayed on.)
Marc talks a lot about our ads becoming part of culture. I knew the 1985 Levis ad was the reason
men wear boxer shorts and it put an otherwise unknown song into the charts. But as of last night, I fully believe it’s the greatest ad in history. Most people these days know the song and wear the underwear without realizing why. But this show was consciously done with the ad in mind.
“Is someone going to perform a version of it on stage in 32 years time?” Is going to be a question that I ask myself every time I make an ad from now on. If the answer is “maybe” then we are onto something.
At the time the Levi’s 501 wasn’t a cool product. People didn’t like the button flies, the shape was unflattering and they were expensive. The campaign was a last-ditch attempt to revive sales and BBH was in danger of losing the account. I’m starting to realise that the boring and unloved products are the biggest opportunities to make history because when they’re not cool that just means they’re not yet cool.
This year we are making documentaries about six industry legends and one of those is Sir John Hegarty who thought up the ad in question. Whoever is interviewing him please ask him how he feels about his ad being performed to hen parties in a nightclub.