Greed is good. Just don’t remind us too often.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsP6XTHBwRw]

Jesse Pinho (no relation; we just have the same parents) mutes his TV every time he sees the above Levi’s commercial, and wonders why:

Levi’s #GoForth commercial is an excellent example of the intersection of individual and corporation, in which the corporation (Levi’s) more or less blatantly proclaims its jeans to be the standard-bearer of creativity, leadership, and individuality. Wear Levi’s, and you’ve staked your claim to “it.” (Exactly what “it” is, I’m not sure–but it’s certainly something good.) Add Levi’s to your curation of relationships, and it will perfectly complement your other inevitably cool qualities–your artistry, your go-getter attitude, your so-perfect-it-could-only-be-in-a-commercial haircut…

So why, then, do I find myself reaching for the remote the instant I hear “This is a pair of Levi’s”? What triggers this reaction? Certainly, annoying or poorly-done ads (I’m looking at you, 5-hour Energy!) prompt the same response, but the Levi’s commercial was neither of those. So what is it? Is the call to action too transparent? That is, does Levi’s offend me by toeing the delicate line between subtlety and overtness vis-à-vis manipulation of its audience? Certainly, someone who responds positively to being told that he is “the next living leader of the world” won’t respond so well to realizing that the compliment was proffered simply to coax him into buying some company’s product.  But then, all advertising aims to do just that: it offers the viewer something she wants (a compliment, entertainment, humor, etc.) in exchange for 30 to 60 seconds of her attention. Or, at the very least, it beats the viewer over the head with some piece of information (“5-hour Energy… every day! Every day! Every day!”) so that its message–“Buy this!”–is inescapable.

Perhaps, then, it’s that Levi’s violates the contract between viewer and advertiser, in which the viewer suspends her cynicism every time a commercial is played. We viewers know that we are being manipulated into action when watching a commercial; and we’ve come to accept that, under one condition: that the advertiser does not insult our intelligence. Levi’s, however, fails to acknowledge this basic requirement, blatantly exploiting our perception of cool and forcing us to confront it in such literal terms that we’re made to feel uncomfortable. Advertisers should take note of this interaction, and learn from it one important lesson: that we’ll gladly consent to exploitation as long as you don’t remind us that that’s what we’re doing.

Look out for more stuff from Jesse coming up on this blog (as well as on his), primarily on the tech scene and related topics.

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2 thoughts on “Greed is good. Just don’t remind us too often.

  1. Oh, man! I thought I was the only one with an alarmingly, inexplicably averse reaction to this damn ad! It does come off about as subtle as an axe to the head, and I truly, TRULY hate it. Thank you for making me feel fractionally less crazy for thinking that.

    • It’s funny because, before reading Jesse’s post, I’d never even seen it. But now that I have, I can definitely understand why it’s so grating.

      Stay tuned for more from Jesse coming soon!

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