This is where it started. The hugely famous, widely spoofed Levi's "launderette" ad where Nick Kamen stripped down to his white boxers in 1985, was the breakthrough commercial for a new British approach to an old American brand. Bartle Bogle Hegarty, a Soho ad agency start-up of 1982 invented a whole new world for Levi's. There was something classic - the music track, Marvin Gaye's utterly perfect "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" - something retro, like the Fifties car and the launderette itself. Until then, jeans commercials had fought it out on TV with crass backwoods American heritage, or painful borrowed interest taken from brand new music. BBH gave Levi's a cultural cleverness that got to sharpies who loved the nods to cults, the detailing and the choice of music tracks.
More Americana. And another soul classic for Levi's to own. This time it's Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman". We're in that Elvis film territory of 1950s soldiers and their sweethearts. It starts in one of those coach stations where our GI hero is saying goodbye to his girlfriend. As he gets on the coach he hands her a package. Then there's him in the coach, pensive, and there's her on the pavement with a big 1950s skirt blowing. (There's a touch of the Olivia Newton-Johns here). Later she's in her curiously bleak apartment, opening the package - her boyfriend's 501s. She pulls them on and lies back and the mood changes: you're expecting an early breakthrough in female masturbation. Instead she reads the letter in his back pocket. The strap line is "501s - occasionally available for women".
Here's a brilliant bit of casting. Using Brad Pitt in 1991 before he was properly famous, simply because he looked so right with his open smile and his blonde cowlick. He's the main thing about this commercial, which by BBH/Levi's standards isn't so remarkable otherwise. It's beautifully made, of course, but it doesn't have the impact of those cultural quotations and it doesn't build a world of its own. There's Brad being released from a Mexican jail and getting back his only possession - a camera. He gets picked up by a stunna who gives him his Levi's and photographs their up- for-it embrace to the sounds of T.Rex. Then he throws the camera back to the sheriff who is staring intently at them. It could just be a very superior car commercial. But you could dine out for ever on giving Brad his break.
This is based on a cult American film made before most of Levi's 16-24 core target market were born - Burt Lancaster's The Swimmer of 1968. The music is Dinah Washington's souled-up rendering of Noel Coward's wildly camp 1930's "Mad About the boy". The result is a very clever culture mash. The film's storyline was just Lancaster swimming from one end of a California county to the other across all the end-to-end swimming pools. So the commercial opens on a 1950s California garden, where the Levi's man takes off his shirt and dives into the first pool while women - and men - watch with their tongues hanging out. And so on and on, past beautifully propped garden-party casts. At the end he grabs a girl and they dive from a high board together. "The more you wash them, the better they get."
More of BBH's remarkable ability to make simple product points in clever ways. And more of the new way of presenting stripped-off men as sex objects, here for 19th-century Amish daughters in Yosemite country. The uptight family's picnicking and the teenage daughters go off to play without their parents. They see a bare-chested young man swimming in a lake. One girl picks up what she thinks are his trousers. As we see the hunk's naked torso emerge from the lake the girls are sweating, gasping - gagging for it, as we'd say now. He's not actually naked - he's been swimming in …