Garfield's AdReview

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Once upon a time, in the days of disco and Jimmy Carter, Levi Strauss & Co. thought it had problems. Calvin Klein, Gloria Vanderbilt, Jordache and Sergio Valente were carving into the brand's World Denim Domination as would-be fashionistas squeezed themselves into elaborately stitched blue jeans like a proctologist into latex.

For Levi's, those are looking like the good old days.

That was a fad. At the moment, we're in a veritable jeans bubble, as an ever-expanding array of designer competitors charge ever more for a pair of cotton pants. Not only do Evisu, Earl, Joes, Rogan, Diesel, Lucky, Nudie, Citizens of Humanity, True Religion, Dolce & Gabbana and a thousand others steal share from the Levi/Lee/Wrangler old-dungaree economy, they do it in increments of $400 (or more) a pair.

Which an astonishing number of brand-obsessed young men and women cheerfully surrender. (We are tempted to ridicule them and call them names, but judging others' consumption values is a slippery slope. Don't ask, for example, about Mrs. AdReview's annual Dead Sea products expenditure) Anyway, when you have invested 400 bucks in a pair of Nudies, how much is left over in your denim budget for Levi 501s?

Allow us to answer: none.

No matter how much less expensive they are. No matter how iconic they are. No matter how authentic they are. The crisis is rooted in how declasse they are.

Yes, it has come to that, and desperate times call for desperate actions. So, with the help of the Tag youth-marketing unit of McCann Erickson, New York, Levi Strauss is taking steps to win back at least the male population with a message of primal simplicity:

If you don't wear Levi's, you are an embarrassment.

A cologne-wearing, latte-slurping, chest-waxing, pilates-practicing, product-applying girlie man. A metrosexual not in the sense of being a more highly evolved male aesthete, but in the sense of being a total sellout. A two-minute Web ad titled "A World Gone Pretty" ends with the question, "Life getting too complicated? Uncomplicate." But the message is abundantly clear: Come back to Levi's and reclaim your masculinity.

It's wonderful, actually: stop-animated Ken dolls sliding ever deeper into the degradation of self-help books, designer clothes, hair mousse and low-carb beer. The story is told without dialogue in stylized model structures and real interiors. The angles are severe, the music choral and epic. Arch and thrilling isn't an easily achieved combination, but this is both.

Furthermore, as homophobic as it all sounds, it isn't that, quite. Masculinity is about aura, not sexual preference. Ken isn't being gay-bashed. He's just a confused male, overdosed on cappuccino, in need of redemption.

Nor is this an especially novel approach. For the past several years, Miller High Life has glorified simple, manly preoccupations. And back when Bee Gees roamed the earth, Camel Filters was comparing its ruggedly self-assured smokers to the sissy smokers of gimmicky slims.

Hard to know, considering how the market has turned away from ruggedness, if playing the macho card will do any good. But given that trade has never been rougher for Levi, what could be more appropriate than making itself a badge of rough trade?

Review 3.5 stars

Ad: Levi's

Agency: McCann Erickson

Location: New York

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