Boring and Banal: That's a Pretty Good Fit for Lee Jeans

Arnold Communications' New Ad Campaign is a Triumph of Mediocrity

By Published on .

Here's to mediocrity.

Here's to cliche, to banality, to playing it safe. Here's to milquetoast and pablum and a cup of weak tea. Here's to the courage to be craven, to foster a sense of self so strong that you're willing to make no impression whatsoever.

Ladies and gentlemen, here's to Arnold Communications, New York -- and we're not being entirely ironic.

Pathetic side
OK, the agency's introductory effort for Lee jeans is a little bit on the pathetic side. It's utterly devoid of originality, wit, showmanship, attitude or style. It's two pairs of spots showing a few mainstream-looking models strutting and dancing in blue jeans. The music is Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" (You can feel it all o-o-o-verrr), which is new or edgy only if you are Casey Kasem.

If you are Buddy Lee, however, you are slashing your little vinyl wrists. All of the hipness, the weirdness, the postmodern edginess that informed so much Lee advertising under the previous agency, Fallon, has vanished. Instead Arnold has produced generic department-store ads touting the least-threatening denim styles it could squeeze on eight unthreateningly attractive middle Americans.
Engage Garfield directly in his new blog.
Engage Garfield directly in his new blog.

Going for bland
But this could not have happened by accident. It's not as though the creative team showed up for work one day and forgot they were urbanites. They did not produce pablum and milquetoast while trying for bruschetta and tapenade. It is clear that these folks were going for bland.

Congratulations, team. You did it!

But, no, really, congratulations. The annals of advertising failure are strewn with hip, edgy, witty, original, memorable ads that brutalized their brands. The granddaddy of them all might be Fallon's, for Miller Lite. The "Dick" campaign spared no expense and no subversion on an audience that unfortunately didn't get irony. About a half-billion dollars later, Lite's market share was halved. This appalling exercise is repeated around the world, in varying degrees of egregiousness, every single day.

So should we not honor those who have given some thought to their audience?

Kohl's and JC Penney
Fallon's work for Lee was clever, yes, but not so clever as to make Lee a growing brand. On the contrary, in these days of Miss Sixty, True Religion, 7 For All Mankind, Paper Denim & Cloth and other boutique labels, Lee dungarees just languished on the shelves at Kohl's and JC Penney, where they are principally sold.

Exactly how hip does a Kohl's shopper want her blue-jeans advertising to be?

Permit me to answer: Not very.

There are vast swaths of America from border to border, coast to coast, who will never be in the market for Miss Sixty. They will never respond to edgy advertising, edgy design or edgy anything. In their living rooms they have BarcaLoungers, oak-veneer wall units and Olan Mills family portraits over the sofa. Everyone is wearing a sweater. Nobody is wearing Paper Denim & Cloth.

Lee jeans fit
The message of this campaign is that Lee jeans fit. Maybe so. But the ads sure do.

Please don't misunderstand. We are not-repeat, NOT-suggesting that advertisers talk down to middle-brow America. But it surely does no good to talk over them. For ad creatives to impose their values and aesthetics on the demonstrably unlike-minded masses is like reading the CBS news in Japanese. Some people will think it's a cool stunt. Most will simply not understand the news. And a lot of them will be very ticked off.

So, yes, congratulations, Arnold, for leaving your ego and gratuitous attitude at the door. But for the next pool of spots, you might consider not surrendering your pride.

~ ~ ~
Review: 2.5 stars
Ad: Lee
Agency: Arnold Worldwide
Location: New York
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