Levis, Do I look like Steve Martin? Then why you are treating us like The Jerk?

YouTube Kicks Levi’s Butt-Cam to the Curb
Brian Quinton March 9th, 2011

I’m all in favor of sly marketing that doesn’t insist on itself and incorporates humor. If a brand can make me laugh and, better yet, can win me a little social credit when I forward it to my friends, I tend to remember that the next time I’m in the market to buy that product. A few laughs works better for me than a 10% discount coupon—at least, until Suzuki starts issuing rebates on the Hayabusa sportbike. Then we can talk.

But a recent attempt at astroturfing a viral video proves that some brand marketers can be too clever by half. A month ago a video popped up on YouTube in which two very attractive women from New Zealand slipped small video cameras in the back pockets of their jeans, with holes cut for the lenses, and then strolled around what appears to be Venice Beach CA, ambushing guys doing what comes naturally—checking out their derrieres. The aim, according to the two girls, was to “show guys how sly they aren’t”.

To no one’s surprise, it worked. The video documents a lot of admiring looks from males, some of them accompanied by women who are either completely oblivious to the show or can only stare dumbfounded. The video took off, racking up 5 million views on YouTube in the course of six days. Great guerilla video, right?

Except that interviews began popping up on marketing Web sites in which Colenso BBDO Auckland took credit for conceiving and executing the campaign on behalf of jeans maker Levi’s and an new product, their Curve ID skinny jeans. Suddenly people noticed that the only retail sign visible in the 5-minute clip, way back at the 4:30 mark, was part of a Levi’s logo. A post on the Web site Campaign Brief quotes the agency’s executive creative director to the effect that “Levi’s tells us it’s the fastest, most successful viral campaign Levi’s has ever done, and it’s only just started, so we’re pretty chuffed.” (That’s kiwi for “stoked”.)

It’s also history. Turns out what Colenso and Levi’s forgot was that taking pictures of people on the street and not getting them to sign releases is a large don’t as far as YouTube is concerned. The video has been pulled from YouTube; anyone who looks up “RearView video” or “ass cam” is doomed to click through the search result to face YouTube’s screen of death and the epitaph “This video has been removed because its content violated YouTube’s Terms of Service.”

Click here to see what 5 million views in six days gets you if you don’t play by the permission rules.

(At post time the video is still available at this URL , but I can’t swear it will stay up for long.)

I’m not a stickler about this stuff. I don’t mind getting punked, and I’m a fan of good, funny marketing. If it turns out that a video I enjoyed was made not by just plain folks but by a marketing agency, then I say (channeling Crocodile Dundee), “Good on you, mate.” I’m not positive that the way to sell jeans is to position the camera to show absolutely everything in the place except the jeans, but reasonable minds can differ.

No, my critique is that it would have been so easy to do the legal blocking and tackling necessary to let this campaign develop to a natural conclusion. It couldn’t have been that heard to get the releases YouTube required. After all, “Taxicab Confessions” gets people to cop to a lot worse than simple ogling. And the format of the video would have meant that if someone refused to take part, the agency could simply have snipped them out. Colenso and Levi’s could have had time to craft a proper reveal to the prank that could actually have brought people into the stores to buy jeans.

Instead the stunt is a misfire—not because it didn’t get views or shares, but because the creators were so anxious to release their concept into the wild that they shot themselves in the foot. It’s a mistake that was rampant back when everyone was encouraging their customers to create UGC commercials, but apparently it needs periodic repeating: You can’t film people without their say-so. If you do, you’ll wind up looking like an ass.

And give me credit for going 690 words before breaking out the first hinder pun.

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Related Topics: Social Media, Interactive, Word of Mouth, Advertising/Media, General
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Randolph Price Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

March 14th, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Surely I have overlooked something because although the legal issue is not one to take lightly, ignoring the best practice rules of the social media road are equally troublesome.

Relevant= PASS
Authentic = FAIL
Transparency = FAIL
Trust = FAIL

The entire premise of word of mouth and its credible ability to influence is diminished the second i find out it’s a “fake”. Plenty of creative ways honor disclosure and one surefire way to submarine success~!


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