Levi’s marketing campaign toasts 150 years of 501s

There are few brands that have reached icon status, but Levi’s has to be one of them. To mark 150 years since introducing its most beloved cut of jeans, the 501s, the brand has launched a campaign orchestrated by Droga5 that emphasises its cultural legacy – not just in its US birthplace, but around the world.

The campaign, named The Greatest Story Ever Worn, is told through three films that draw on real stories about people’s relationships with their 501s.

One of them follows the arrival of Levi’s 501s in Kingston, Jamaica, in the 1970s and the way in which locals introduced their own tastes to the jeans. Directed by Melina Matsoukas, the film leans into music and movement in a way that she’s come to be known for, whether in her feature-length debut Queen & Slim or her music projects, including the video for Beyoncé’s single Formation. The choice of Toots & the Maytal’s 54-46 (That’s My Number) to soundtrack the film neatly gestures at how the brand built its most iconic product off a number, not a name.

“Early Levi’s spots were some of the pieces that actually inspired me to pursue commercial filmmaking,” says Matsoukas. “It is an honour to now be part of their cinematic legacy.”

The brand enjoyed a particularly strong run of ads in the 80s and 90s with BBH as its agency partner, including Nick Kamen’s steamy turn in Laundrette. Many of these ads encouraged copycats and spoofs, and still regularly make the list of the most influential spots of all time, in a way that’s hard to replicate these days but remind us of the brand’s legacy in culture.

The two other films in the 150th anniversary campaign were both directed by Martin de Thurah. One draws on the true story of the man who was such a fan of Levi’s that, upon his death, he requested not only to be buried in 501s but asked all of the people going to his funeral to wear a pair, too. It might involve death but the film is more light than dark, thanks to its jovial Cliff Richard soundtrack and an irreverent final shot from the perspective of the deceased.

De Thurah’s second film makes for a particularly entertaining story that takes us to Tbilisi, Georgia, where we meet a young man desperate to get his hands on a pair of 501s, and is willing to trade anything to make that happen.

Some might argue that more could have been done with numeric ‘anagram’ of 501 and 150. However, the quiet nod to this in the anniversary campaign identity, shown at end of the films, perhaps sums up how the brand made a legacy out of simplicity.

Agency: Droga5
Directors: Melina Matsoukas, Martin de Thurah
Photographer: Jason Nocito
Stylist: Mobolaji Dawodu