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Levi’s makes an ass of itself with amateur viral blunder

Levi’s thought it had got hold of the mother of all viral ideas a few weeks ago for promoting its Curve ID jeans range (catering for the more generously-built Joan Holloway type). BBDO Colenso, its ad agency in New Zealand, hired a couple of local models, equipped them with an “ass cam” that would capture people gawking at their rear ends as they prowled the streets of LA, and then uploaded the result onto YouTube.

Viral it certainly was. Within less than two weeks 7 million people had viewed the video. But what was supposed to excite aspirational envy has in fact excited derision. Levi’s executives are walking around with smacked-bottom faces, now that they are the butt of everyone’s jokes.

Whatever went wrong? At first sight, not very much. The viral is actually quite funny. My own favourite cameos are the girl on the escalator looking absolutely riveted, and what appears to be a stray sighting of Jesus in the last frames. But once you’ve had a few laughs, you begin to realise what the problem is. This has all been a tremendous waste of everyone’s time, energy and expense because nowhere does Levi’s manage to insert any branding.

Or at least, that’s what I thought until a couple of hours ago, when it turned out that Levi’s had compounded one schoolboy marketing error with another. YouTube, in an access of headmasterly rage, has pulled the viral “because its contents violated YouTube’s terms of service”. What the agency had forgotten to do, and what Levi’s legal counsel had failed to remind them to do, was to get model release permissions from all those people who had unwittingly made fools of themselves oh-so-publicly.

Being in LA, I’m sure the offended parties will soon be assuaging their wounded feelings by resorting to a class action. How much those collective traumatised feelings are worth is, of course, the $64m question. But gold-digging attorneys will be, even as you read these words, working “the math” out for them.

The one consolation for Levi’s is that we will now remember who made the viral.

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