My Top Ten Favorite Levi’s® Commercials

Levi Strauss & Company has created innovative, prize-winning commercials for decades.  Many featured music from top recording artists and actors who later became major movie stars.  There are too many exceptional Levi’s® commercials to recount so I have chosen my top ten favorites.   Do you recognize these actors?

Picture #1 – Bruce Willis from the 1984 “501® Blues” commercial. Picture #2 – Jason Alexander from “501® Blues” commercial. Picture #3 – Brad Pitt from 1991 “Originals stand the test of time”.

I have done my best to include information about each commercial but I can not confirm that the information is 100% correct.  I would also like to thank all the generous people who contributed their content to YouTube and other video sharing sites. Counting down from the top:

#1. Wash Room – 1996.  “The Original 501® button fly. Seen in all the wrong places.” Directed by brilliant India-born Tarsem Singh, a young film director who learned the art of salesmanship as a used car salesman.  Tarsem made a big hit early in his career directing R.E.M.’s video “Losing My Religion” and winning MTV awards. He made his first feature film debut in 2000  with the psycho-thriller “The Cell”.

#2. Tainted Love – 1997. Commercial advertising Levi’s® Wide Leg Jeans, “It’s Wide Open”. Directed by Spike Jonze, a.k.a. Adam Spiegel, who has produced and directed skate board videos, music videos (Beastie Boys, Bjork, Ludacris), feature films (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, Three Kings and Jackass 1 & 2).

#3. 501® Blues – 1984. Unscripted commercial shot by Foot, Cone & Belding. An interesting fact about “501® Blues” is that it was shot with a long-lens camera that the actors could not see.  They were told to “do their thing”. Aired during the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, CA.  Due to the broad viewership it was an opportune time for the company to reignite interests in the jeans market and establish distribution of 501® Jeans East of the Mississippi.

#4. Levi’s® Dangerous Liaisons – 2007.  A couple undressing in the same room morphing from the 1870s to 2007. Dangerous Liaisons was created at BBH, London, by creative director Caroline Pay, art director Steve Wakelani, copywriter Dean Wei, and agency producer David Karbassioun. The song “Strange Love”, by Little Annie Bandez.

# 5. Good Morning World – mid 1970’s. I apologize in advance because you will have this song in your head for days!  This spot was created by Mike Koelker from Foote, Cone & Belding.  Mike was the genius behind many Levi’s® commercials.  “Good Morning World” was created for Levi’s® Youthwear targeting kids 12 -14.

#6 Working Man – 1981. “Levi’s® Jeans that helped build America.”  Copy by Mike Koelker, art direction by Chris Blum.  “Working Man” used then state-of-the-art effects by the late Robert Abel, a pioneer in computer animation. The spot reinforced the Levi’s heritage of being a working class brand.

#7. 501® “Drug Store” directed by Michael Gondry – 1994.  Wikipedia writes, according to the Guinness World Records 2004, Michel Gondry’s Levi’s 501 Jeans “Drugstore” spot holds the record for “Most awards won by a TV commercial”.[2] The commercial was never aired in North America because of the suggestive content involving purchasing latex condoms.

#8. Trademark – 1977.  Copy by Mike Koelker, art direction by Chris Blum (director of Billy Joel’s video “We Didn’t Start the Fire”), produced & directed by Robert Able. The commercial was trying to reinforce that Levi’s® brand across all the company product lines, “Levi’s® don’t have to be blue, just have to be good”.

#9. Evolution – late 1970’s. Copy by Mike Koelker, art direction by Chris Blum, voiceover by “Word Jazz” created Ken Nordine. The commercial was very different from other commercials during that era. “Evolution” was advertising multiple product lines, styles, and fabrics in one commercial… maybe too many.  There was a second commercial from this time with the same kind of animation and ethereal voice over (Stranger) but I selected “Evolution” because of the what I am calling, the “yikes” factor.

#10. Brad Pitt, “Originals stand the test of time” – 1991.  I pretty much included this commercial in my top ten because, it’s Brad Pitt. I was not able to gather any information about this commercial.  There is the obvious message that Levi’s® jeans are alway in style (especially if Brad Pitt wears them). I think they the company was also trying to channel the James Dean image of the Rebel.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I did researching it and picking my top ten.  What are your favorites?

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21 Responses to “My Top Ten Favorite Levi’s® Commercials”


  1. 2 Bud Robinson May 6, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Great job! and thanks for recent nostalgia.

    Does anyone have access to the commercial that actually re-created the dray horses trying to pull a pair of 501’s apart?

    We filmed it at dawn outside Las Vegas and premiered it at the “Challenge of Change” sales convention held at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach in 1965. This was the last such convention for many years and featured an original Broadway musical type show about LS&Co. If there remains a copy of the video tape of this show, it would be priceless.

    Ed Combs, then President of LSI, was called home to SF before he was scheduled to speak, due to the early arrival of his daughter, Leslie Combs, name after my daughter Leslie.

    The Good Old Days…….

    Bud Robinson

  2. 3 The Deminator May 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Thanks Bud. I think the commercial you are referring to was linked in a comment from another reader. Hope this helps.

    v=zaqcthqw5Tg&feature=PlayList&p=6F5D116740EF5FDD&playnext_from=PL&playnext=1&index=3

  3. 4 Bud Robinson May 11, 2010 at 6:03 am

    Dear Deminator,
    Sorry, but the link you listed did not get to the commercial I was seeking. Here is how I have described it in the draft of my book:

    Chapter 6

    The Challenge of Change

    The last of Levi’s traditional weekend-long annual conventions, aptly named “The Challenge of Change”, was staged at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach in 1969. Prior conventions were far less grand and included more home office employees, but our growth in the number of management employees was only exceeded by our sales increases, so continuation of this annual tradition was deemed too costly. Thus, we planned to make this last one especially memorable.

    A New York theatrical firm was engaged to write and produce an original musical about the company, replete with very funny caricatures of top management, and it was the convention’s smash hit opening night show. My department had made a film of all our recent television spots, including unseen footage, and we unveiled what I still feel was the best Levi’s jeans commercial ever made. The commercial, named “The Two Horse Brand”, was greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

    Since the beginning, each pair of original 501’s has been adorned with a leather patch on which there is a “branded” image of a pair of work horse drivers, called drovers, with a team of horses, trying to tear the pants apart. It became Levi’s symbol of the original product’s ruggedness, and to this day every pair shows the struggle. But I was unable to learn if the tug-of-war event ever really took pace, and if so, whether the horses or the pants were victorious. This strength concept, promoted by referring to 501’s as “The Two Horse” brand, continued to intrigue me, beyond the clever double entendre.

    Several customer letters over the years told of harrowing escapes from injury or death, thanks to Levi’s strength. One described being snatched from under a train’s wheels by the fact that his Levi’s got caught on a hook as he fell from the train. Another told of him and his car being towed from a ditch using just a twisted a pair of 501’s as an emergency rope. And there were many sad parting letters from those who were sending back their dead jeans, to redeem Levi’s famous warranty,” A New Pair Free if They Rip”. Many of these later letters spoke as if they had lost a close friend.

    Intrigued with the 501 product’s legendary strength, and needing a new jeans television commercial to direct to the growing age diversity of it’s buyers, I asked the agency to consider a TV spot that delivered a product strength message, or, perhaps actually re-created the fabled contest between dray horses and Levi’s.

    Once again, I was testing the agency’s tolerance by attempting to dictate the creative content of their work, and once again they rose to the challenge.

    Several ideas were shown that staged re-enactments of the “escape from danger” letters, and they looked promising, but the horse vs. pants contest was clearly the best. This proposed commercial’s storyboard (a scene-by-scene artist’s rendering of the commercial concept, complete with copy and staging notes) titled “Two Horse Brand”, was expertly described by the copywriter and director with embellishments not drawn on the board, as a third writer dramatically read the exact copy aloud.

    It began with dramatic western music (like the Bonanza theme) and a close-up of the steaming nostrils of a huge dray horse, not unlike the Budweiser Clydesdales, on a cold early dawn in a dusty desert location. As the sun rose, the camera pulled back to reveal two drovers, dressed more like miners than cowboys, and cleverly drawn to look like young Levi Strauss himself. Each was urging a mighty horse to pull in opposite directions, with a iron rig between them attached to each leg of a pair of Levi’s 501’s.

    To no avail, the horses snorted and strained in the morning chill, raising clouds of dust, but not dismembering the 501’s. As the battle ensued, the voice-over announcer spoke of Levi Strauss’s humble beginnings and the amazing pants he had invented that wild horses couldn’t rip apart. But if you did, you could get a new pair for free.

    It sounded perfect, but we all wondered if it could be filmed without any “artistic license”…in other words, could it be done honestly without faking it. No one wanted to actually pre-test the contest without filming it, because of the excess cost of doing it twice if it worked, and the danger that, when repeating the scene on location, it might fail. The agency decided to discuss it with actual drovers and get their advice before we proceeded.

    Their reports later came back that it had an excellent chance of success! It seems that good dray horses are trained to pull, not jerk, and when they meet a strong resistance, they hold their position, straining, but not enough to hurt themselves. The drovers assured us that they could coordinate the two horses sufficiently to make the commercial with no trickery or deceptive editing, and the pants would probably hold.

    We decided to chance it.

    We set off from the Las Vegas Stardust Hotel and Casino for the nearby Nevada desert one cold pre-dawn morning. The location we had chosen was a desert foothills national park near Las Vegas, and we were set to stage test shots an hour before the sun rose. I couldn’t believe how big these silent monstrous horses were when I arrived in the dark.

    Their harnesses and iron tow bars that had been specially made to look old, were very heavy leather, iron, and wood. Each rig had a connection device that firmly gripped one leg of the jeans yet allowed the pants to be seen clearly between the equine behemoths.

    The test shots were made using several different pairs of 501’s, each in a different stage of wear, and to everyone’s vocal relief, all but the most faded and worn pair survived the tug-of-war.

    The crisp crystal-clear Nevada morning air was broken by the sudden sun as we began final filming, and the desert took on a deep red “other- worldly” hue, rapidly turning to gold. The setting looked straight out of the 19th century, the colors were perfect, and the struggling drovers and their horses earned their Actors Equity cards.

    And the 501’s held fast!

    Only after our film was in the can and we were driving back to Vegas, did the agency guys admit that they had brought an unneeded emergency steel cable that would fit hidden inside the pants to prevent them ripping apart… “just in case”.

    I silently wondered what I would have done with the commercial if we had actual needed the cable. That still remains an unanswered question.

    When we viewed the “rushes”, as raw footage is called, we knew it was Oscar quality cinematography and would yield superbly to the editors touch.

    But the best actor Oscar would have to go to victor of this Herculean struggle, the unyielding Levi’s 501’s themselves, the true hero’s of the day!

  4. 5 The Deminator May 11, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Sorry Bud. I don’t have access to any other commercials. Good luck.

  5. 6 Bill February 9, 2011 at 9:14 am

    There was another :Good morning World” commercial in the 80’s, It was animated and a boy was flying around in a psycadelic sky?, Had the same lyrics “Good morning world” etc…., Like to see that one!

  6. 7 bud robinson February 9, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Hi again,

    John Johnson, Levi’s longtime Account Supervisor at Honig Cooper then after the merger with Foote Cone and Belding(JohnE57@aol.com) told me that Chris Blum, Art Director for Honig, has an extensive collection of Levi’s advertising history. He now has his own firm Chris Blum Design (chrisblumdesign@comcast.net) Maybe he can fill in some missing advertising history?

    Good luck,

    Bud

  7. 8 The Deminator February 9, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Thank you for providing that information. I am no longer active with this blog but will continue to check and respond to comments.

  8. 10 audio ads April 17, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Admiring the dedication you put into your blog and in
    depth information you present. It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same unwanted rehashed information.

    Great read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google
    account.

  9. 11 Marina May 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Does anyone remember a Levi’s commercial that went something like this…

    I bought a pair of Levi’s and they’ve really been around
    I’ve taken them camping and I’ve laid them on the ground.
    they’ve come with me to parties and they’ve climbed up a tree,
    they’ve been to school so often they’re nearly smart as me
    and after years and years of wearing my Levi’s in and out,
    I couldn’t help but notice that the knees wore out.
    Now I’m warin’ them as cutoffs and flying through the air
    and I really think it’s time that I bought another pair!

    At the end something like Levi’s fade away…around 1976ish…

  10. 12 D June 18, 2013 at 5:37 am

    YES!!!! I looked it up once before, but it was a Canadian made commercial and I don’t think there is a copy around. The missing verse ( since it is probably driving you nuts:

    I couldn’t help but notice that the knees wore out….

    So I sewed on a patch, a flower here and there,
    They looked so very nice you could take ’em anywhere….

    Now I’m wearin them as cutoffis…..

  11. 13 Brad August 21, 2013 at 3:59 am

    Dear Marina: I remember your commerical, and the words were:
    I bought a pair of Levi’s and they’ve really been around
    I’ve taken them camping and I’ve laid them on the ground.
    they’ve come with me to parties and they’ve climbed up a tree,
    they’ve been to school so often they’re nearly smart as me
    and after years and years of wearing my Levi’s in and out,
    I couldn’t help but notice that the knees wore out.
    So, I sewed on a patch, a flower here and there,
    and they look so good, I can take them anywhere,
    Now I’m warin’ them as cutoffs and flying through the air
    and I really think it’s time that I bought another pair!
    You can live in levi’s!

  12. 14 Chris Sobieniak (@ChriSobieniak) June 22, 2014 at 12:28 am

    By the way, that should be Robert Abel, not “Able”. For more of his company’s work, check out this!

  13. 15 Rosemarie spilak October 16, 2014 at 5:19 am

    Love new Levi commercial I have loved your red tag Levi jeans for 40 years

  14. 16 Rosemarie spilak October 16, 2014 at 5:21 am

    Just saying I have loved my well your red tag Levi’s for 40 years

  15. 17 Barry Jones January 26, 2016 at 12:16 am

    What ever happened to that animated or ‘cartoon’ Levis commercial where there’s no people, it’s just the pants themselves acting like people? From the 80’s and I think the theme was cattle rustling or some type of cowboy activity. It was on youtube years ago but gone now.
    Barry

  16. 18 The Deminator January 26, 2016 at 5:58 am

    Hmmm. Not sure Barry. Those commercials are normally posted on people’s personal YouTube channels so they must have taken them off. Sorry not to be more helpful. Shelly

  17. 19 Desert Tripper June 13, 2016 at 6:16 am

    Hi, Not sure if radio commercials are covered here, but there was one from the 80s that really caught my attention. It was a mysterious, “X-Files”-ish tale of a person in the country who heard what he thought was a train on an old track near his house, but he was puzzled because a train hadn’t passed there in years. He went out to look and saw a giant monolithic figure chugging by wearing a pair of Levi’s and he could see “the orange stitching glowing.” Haven’t been able to find this commercial in online media; just wondering if anyone remembers it!


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