WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?

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Not since Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop has there been a human/puppet team as engaging as Angel and Flat-Eric, performing for Levi's Sta-Prest clothes. Then again, Flat-Eric's not just a puppet, says John Hegarty. The legendary CD of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, whose London office created the spots, insists that "we see him as a person."

According to Hegarty, the brief from Levi's suggested showing "some kind of relationship"; but copywriter Tony Davidson, art director Kim Papwort and agency producer Philippa Crane all agreed that standard steamy footage wouldn't do. Hegarty wearily describes the genre. "Hunky bloke and beautiful girl. She looks at him and unbuttons his jeans. It's boring and corporate."

Flat-Eric was inspired by a short film on the reel of the campaign's director, Quentin Dupieux, who works for Partizan Midi Minuit, Paris. That film features two characters who eventually merged into Eric, courtesy of the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Eric, a yellowish cross between a monkey and a teddy bear, sports a flat haircut -hence his nickname.

It's interesting to see how little happens in the spots, and how persuasive they are nonetheless. The three commercials to date center around Eric and Angel driving around in Angel's beat-up old car, listening to pounding techno tunes. Just one of the three spots, "Cop," has a semblance of a plot and more than a hint of product benefit. A cop pulls the duo over, eyes Angel's perfectly-creased garb suspiciously, and asks to see what's in the trunk. Cut to a closeup of a stash of neatly arranged Sta-Prest clothes, which make the cop realize his own impeccable uniform actually looks crumpled by comparison.

The other two spots seem like British counterparts to VW's famous "Da-Da-Da" spot: two guys cruising, in a script that's seemingly pointless but hugely likable. "Dancing" simply shows Eric grooving away to the music as Angel drives, in a piece of brilliant puppeteering (Henson's people again). The track was composed by Dupieux and made it to the top of the U.K. dance charts. In "Fly," Angel naps as Flat-Eric sucks down a soda, watching a fly that eventually lands on Angel's leg. There's a closeup, and Eric swats the fly. Why does this scene take place? "Why not?" Hegarty counters, before his rational side kicks in: "It was a great way to get a closeup of the fabric and show the product without being corny and boring."

The campaign is running throughout Europe, and it's also available on www.eu.levi.com. There's no word yet on whether Levi's intends to introduce

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