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2008 Creativity Award Winner: Levi's: Dangerous Liaisons

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A stagecoach takes off. Horses neigh, and we witness the daytime tryst of a young couple. They tumble through rooms, ripping off layers of clothing and, with them, decades of fashion. Denim coveralls fall to the floor to reveal '50s slicked hair and cuffed capris. Over her Aquanet hairdo goes a pink sweater that exposes flowerchild bell sleeves, which mirror his tight jean vest and hippie beard. '80s crimped tresses and graphic prints are shed to bring us back to hipster love in the present day. All the while the music is haunting and you know you'll be humming that refrain for weeks. It's hardly a surprise when the logo appears to reveal yet another brilliant moment from Levi's.

Once again, the iconic clothier has remained classic while keeping a fresh, modern tempo. BBH, London, with the help of director Ringan Ledwidge, steers clear of a stale history lesson to showcase timeless passion and the century-old roots of one of its founding clients. Launched last February, the pan-European spot picked up a Gold Lion and a slew of other awards, not to mention about one million hits on YouTube. Staying true to the tradition of famed, music-driven Levi's work, BBH and Ledwidge inspired iTunes purchases the world over with Little Annie's "Strange Love," despite the fact it was a last-minute pick due to song usage issues.

Q&A with BBH, London Creative Director Steve Wakelam

Tell me about how this idea came about. What did the client task you with?

Wakelam: The client's challenge was to showcase new seasonal looks while reasserting Levi's as The Original Jean, to highlight the new while celebrating the brand's iconic heritage. But we didn't want the ad to be backward-looking. We wanted to say that while fashions may have changed down the ages, one thing hasn't changed: the sexiness of Levi's. In its first incarnation the ad was actually written in reverse: a modern couple crash into a room and then peel back the layers of time to end up in 1876 and naked. Needless to say, it was quickly flipped around so the journey became one of constant progress and evolution.

Levi's also has a legacy of music-driven work. How'd you discover and decide on Little Annie's "Strange Love"? What comes first, the song or the story?

Wakelam: The song was the last thing to come. It was a real 11th hour nail-biter. Ringan pulled "Strange Love" out of the bag and the lyrics had just enough relevance to make it feel right without being too obvious. Plus, Little Annie's voice has a very knowing, authentic, mature sound to it. It's a voice that's "lived," a bit like Levi's.

What were some of the most interesting challenges of this project?

Wakelam: The challenges were to make the story feel real, playful and sexy. We needed to find a series of period looks that looked authentic, without tipping into fancy dress. We also had to make sure the cast was actors with chemistry, not just great-looking models. The project needed to be more about the physical intensity between young lovers—something Ringan highlighted as important right from the start.

Any memorable anecdotes from this project?

Wakelam: We squeezed a four-day shoot into two days in a studio outside Prague. The second day started at 8am and didn't finish until 9am the following morning. By the time we got to the final scene, the actors had been working for about 26 hours. We got the performance we needed, but you could tell their tanks were almost empty—the guy had to keep slapping himself in the face between takes. When we yelled cut, they instantly became zombies.

The media and marketing worlds have obviously changed significantly over the last several years. How does all of that inform your creative process and the way you look at creating campaigns? Or does it?

Wakelam: I think the panic over what the changing media landscape means to people producing creative work is unwarranted—a simple idea will work in a variety of media. Idea-makers are being reminded there are many ways we can reach consumers. But we just need to learn a few new words, not an entirely new language. Once everyone is equally at home designing websites, mobile content and events, the playing field will level again, and we'll be reminded that only one thing matters: great ideas.


Check out more of the 2008 Creativity Award winners.
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