World’s best ads ever #37: Levi’s makes a star of a fluffy yellow puppet
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.
Sometimes even Sir John Hegarty can’t get his ideas through first time. Legend has it that it took three attempts before the acclaimed adman convinced Levi’s marketers to make a yellow fluffy puppet one of the two stars of the brand’s ads for Sta-Prest jeans in 1998. And boy, we bet they’re glad they came round.
Flat Eric, the character in question, was inspired by a puppet named Stéphane in a music video released by the French DJ Quentin Dupieux, better known as Mr Oizo. For a variety of reasons, including copyright concerns around the origins of Mr Oizo’s flea market puppet pal, Hegarty’s BBH tasked Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to create a character that bore a resemblance – though not too much of one – to Stephane. Thus emerged Flat Eric – and truly, a star was born.
When agencies and brands today talk about ‘getting into the culture’, this is what they mean. 14 years after Hegarty and BBH had propelled Marvin Gaye’s Through the Grapevine back into the charts after its use in another classic, although altogether more conventional Levi’s ad, Launderette, they struck gold once again. Flat Eric’s soundtrack, the earworm Flat Beat created by Mr Oizo, zoomed to number one in Germany, Italy and the UK on the back of the ad’s release.
Flat Eric starred in three ads for Levi’s, but it is this one – of Eric and his driving companion evading police on account of their remarkably crease-free clothing – that lives longest in the memory. It’s a reminder, too, to never rely too much on audience research, which did not bode well before the ad’s release. “Once it got out there, it just exploded,” Hegarty told The Guardian. “I thought it would be really good. I thought it would be daring. Nobody could have predicted the success.”