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When Droga5 was brought on as an agency partner by Levi's, it was specifically to craft a global brand platform around the 150th anniversary of the clothing company's 501 Jean. To do so, the agency had to grapple with not just a long-standing product, but a tradition of equally iconic ad campaigns that date back to the '80s and '90s.
"When we looked back also at the heritage of Levi's past ads, the thing that they did so well was lean into those single stories," said Cara Cecchini, a senior art director at Droga5. "It felt right to bring that ethos into this anthology of stories that we created."
So instead of one "anthemic, big, explosive, celebratory film," Droga5 scripted three, each inspired by a true story, from a Georgian man who traded the family cow for a pair of jeans, to a man buried in a pair at a denim-required funeral, to the story of how Jamaica's embrace of 501 changed global culture.
The three short films are part of a campaign, "The Greatest Story Ever Worn," that will span social, out-of-home, print, events and digital activations. All of the stories were gleaned from extensive research spanning the Levi's archive, newspaper obituaries and online platforms like Reddit.
"We always talked about approaching these with the fidelity of a documentary, but then meeting the storytelling ambition of Levi's," said Sean Buckhorn, a senior copywriter at Droga5. "We really tried to find the proper source material for each story, and then let that inform the script."
Once the scripts were in place, Droga5 needed great storytellers to bring "The Greatest Story Ever Worn" to life in ambitious ways. They enlisted director Melina Matsoukas ("Queen and Slim," Beats by Dre's "You Love Me") and cinematographer Bradford Young ("Arrival," "Selma") to handle "Precious Cargo," while celebrated director-cinematographer pair Martin de Thurah and Kasper Tuxen to helm "Fair Exchange" and "Legends Never Die."
Coincidentally, Matsoukas was serendipitously working in Jamaica on a different project when she was approached by Droga5. The other project also takes place in the '70s, and she was already steeped in the production design and wardrobe expertise that would be required in "Precious Cargo."
"It was a lightbulb moment," Cecchini recalled. "How can we not run forward with her in light of everything else that she had been doing at the time?"
The resulting 60-second short film richly captures how Kingston made the 501 their own and, in turn, influenced the world, and is soundtracked with "54-46 Was My Number" by Toots and the Maytals — one of the songs played on set to capture the mood of the spot.
Continuing the musical legacy of Levi's advertising was a goal of the campaign, and extended to the other spots. "Fair Exchange" is set in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1982 and uses a song by obscure Polish band Kryzys as its soundtrack.
"It was just hours of listening to era-specific Eastern European music trying to find that perfect track," Buckhorn said. "I think I may have ruined my Spotify algorithms."
"The Greatest Story Ever Worn" is more than just the three stories of the short films, and tells 13 stories overall. The three stories in the short films were particularly cinematic and allow for viewers to be transported to a specific time and place. Other stories, like the ones captured photographically that will launch throughout the year, capture more specifics moments.
"We found 100 different stories, and they all had a different sort of flavor to them," Buckhorn said. "The beauty of this campaign is that you can tell different stories in different mediums in different tones."
As in the settings of two of the films, Levi's and its 501 Jean will continue to tell stories around the globe. A campaign celebrating 150 years of one style of jeans was translated into 19 different languages and will run in 36 markets.
"When you take a step back, [the stories] all have some form of a universal theme," Cecchini said. "That was really important to us in terms of a global storytelling approach: even though this happened at this time, at this place, there's a piece of it that we can all relate to via the product and the lore around the 501."