World’s best ads ever #25: Levi’s cleans up after ‘Launderette’
We asked our readers to vote for their favorite commercials of all time. Top creatives from the World Creative Rankings and The Drum’s Judges’ Club then ranked the ads. Now, we bring you the definitive 100 best TV and video ads of all time.
A timeless example of when song choice meets concept to make magic, Levi’s ‘Launderette’ has become almost as quintessential as the 501 jeans it is marketing.
Shown for the first time on Boxing Day 1985, the spot takes place in a quasi-1950s launderette. At the time, Levi’s sales were flagging as newer, trendier denim brands hit highstreets and shopping malls around the world. Yet research revealed that the 501’s target market (teenagers) saw the classic American aesthetic of the 50s as cool and aspirational.
John Hegarty and Barbara Noakes of BBH recruited director Roger Lyons to shoot the ad, which features the previously unknown model Nick Kamen, who strips down to his boxers before loading his jeans into the washing machine, setting hearts racing and eyebrows raising – and not just in the ad, but around the world. Legend has it TV viewers wrote to Levi’s in their droves requesting signed photos of the model.
Yet the ‘Launderette’ had a further lasting impact on the ad industry itself, in the inspired selection of Marvin Gaye’s 1966 track Heard it Through the Grapevine. Except, it wasn’t actually Gaye in the ad itself, but a newly recorded session version. The success of the ad sparked the studio to re-release Gaye’s original and it went sailing up the charts – the first of seven songs featured in Levi’s ads to re-enter the top 10 (later installments included such hits as Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash, Stand by Me by Ben E King and Boombastic by Shaggy).
It became a masterclass in integrated marketing, as creatives now realized the power of music choice when it came to ads, while sales of the jeans shot up 800%. By 1987, sales of Levi’s jeans were reported to be 20-times what they had been just three years earlier. At a time when Levi’s 501s were seen as the denim of choice for middle-aged dads everywhere, BBH (and Kamen) made them sexy again.