“Launderette” was a commercial for Levi 501s. Made in 1985 by Bartle Bogle Hegarty it starred Nick Kamen and first ran in the UK. Very clever, very memorable. It made Nick famous, increased Levi’s sales by 800%, won lots of prizes and regularly topped the list of British viewers’ favourite commercials. Watch carefully.
LEVI STRAUSS BY BARTLE BOGLE HEGARTY 1985
Advertising ideas famously have many parents. It’s hard when projects are discussed collaboratively over and over again to remember exactly where each thought came from. Ideas emerge out of one another; as another adland cliché has it, “An idea doesn’t care who has it”. Clients and agency bosses don’t either, but with so much at stake, people in creative departments are jealously protective of anything that looks remotely like an original notion. They go out of their way to avoid being accused of plagiarism and have long memories for famous work. But sometimes not long enough.
Have another look at the Levi’s “Launderette” commercial, then watch this:
HAMLET CIGARS BY COLLETT DICKENSON PEARCE, 1968
Uncanny. The Hamlet ad was made by Collett Dickenson Pearce in 1968, probably one of Alan Parker’s early forays into film shot in CDP’s basement. In those early days the Hamlet music – Bach’s “Air on a G-string” performed by Jacques Loussier – played throughout the ad. Only later would its first notes coincide with the moment of disappointment, revealing to the audience that they were watching a Hamlet commercial. A double-joke. I wonder who thought of that refinement?)
The Levis commercial is a straightforward lift of the Hamlet, right down to the man’s white boxer shorts. It has the women on plastic chairs, the expressions of delighted shock. However in the Hamlet film the sixties girls really are sixties girls, whereas the Levi’s commercial has eighties women playing fifties girls and the film has acquired the inevitable couple of cheeky American kids with a gum-habit and backwards baseball caps.
The Hamlet commercial has all the innocence of its era: Twiggy coat dresses, Biba, Sergeant Pepper, and cigars at four shillings eightpence halfpenny a pack; it must have cost hardly more than that to shoot. The set is a row of washing machines and four chairs, and like many of Alan Parker’s early films it was probably made in CDP’s basement.
The Levi’s ad transfers the scene to the New York of cliché. It has an expensive set and screams the production values of the knowing and self-regarding eighties. Of course it also has Nick Kamen, who is sexier than the gent in the bowler and despite the clear borrowing and added kitsch it’s the Levi’s ad that people remember.
I prefer CDP’s original.
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