Levi’s wants you to feel that there’s something American about denim, and something deeply American about theirs in particular. (The Marlboro Man has done his part.) The company makes a poetic case in their recent Go Forth campaign, launched around July 4, with the help of Portland ad legends Wieden + Kennedy, who enlisted rising stars Ryan McGinley and Cary Fukunaga.
The “O Pioneers” spot is exuberant, full of activity. Not only does the camera whip around with Scorsese speed, dropping with the waterfall or sailing over the meadow, but the bodies twirl and careen forward, too, in explosions of motion that do call to mind some kind of pioneer restlessness. Using old Smithsonian wax cylinder recordings of (what we believe, want to believe, is) Whitman’s own voice reciting “Pioneers! O Pioneers,” the union of text and image stirs up an excitement that winningly connects the wild-hearted, hipster Generation O back to the Lincoln-era rhetoric of self-reliance and awe at nature.
The “America” spot draws its text from Whitman’s likewise titled “America.” It is night, again, and we’re out among the trees and lakes. The city doesn’t exist in this world, the daydream nation of country-boy turned metro-artiste Ryan McGinley, it seems, not in the form that we know it. The black and white photography, like the light of the fireworks, is a kind of equalizer: it finds visually common denominators. Against the hanging tension of the Final Fantasy song in the background, the vitality of the subjects—shirtless kids and suited businessmen, backflipping and flexing and chasing through waves of grain—is even more obvious. The snap of the final firecracker silences the violins, breaks the tension, and concentrates our attention on the handwritten go forth at the end. A great ad.