Levi’s 501 Jeans turns 150 – Marketing Lessons from The Greatest Story ever worn

Published: March 03, 2023

min read

Levi’s celebrates the 150th anniversary of its most iconic pair of jeans, the 501, with a cinematic campaign, “The Greatest Story Ever Worn!”

Levi’s are known for their campaigns that are truly iconic – campaigns that have stayed in the minds of generations of Levi’s jeans’ aficionados. To create yet another memorable campaign for the 150th anniversary of its 501 jeans, Levi’s partnered with the agency, Droga5.

Some of the best campaigns for Levi’s jeans are ones that tell single stories. And Droga5 stayed within the same lines and built not one, but three short spots, each throwing the spotlight on one true story.

So, there is this man from Georgia, who trades his cow for a pair of jeans. And there is another one about a man buried in a pair of 501 jeans at a denim-required funeral. There is also the story of how Jamaica took to the 501 jeans and completely changed global culture.

Each of the stories is true and came from either Levi’s own archives, or newspaper obituaries and online discussion groups like Reddit.

Droga5 then roped in director Melina Matsoukas and cinematographer Bradford Young to work on “Precious Cargo,” the story about 501 in Jamaica. They also got the much-celebrated director-cinematographer pair Martin de Thurah and Kasper Tuxen to work on “Fair Exchange” (the cow and the 501) and “Legends Never Die” (the denim funeral).

The background score was carefully chosen to keep with the moods of the spots. The one where Kingston made the 501 their own in the ‘70s and, in turn, influenced the world, had “54-46 Was My Number” by Toots and the Maytals as its background score. The other one, “Fair Exchange” takes one back to 1982 to Tbilisi, Georgia and uses a song by the Polish band Kryzys as its soundtrack.

The Greatest Story Ever Worn campaign is not just these three shots – there are 13 stories in all. The others are done photographically, capturing specific moments in each story and will be launched through the year. Different stories are told in different tones and lend themselves to different mediums. And apparently, one campaign was was translated into 19 different languages and will run in 36 markets.

Marketing lessons from the 501 story

All the stories in the various commercials in this campaign are based on actual true stories. Each story is about real people. We all know that effective story telling increases engagement between the brand and its audience. It helps drive conversions and that leads to revenue growth. This is amplified when the stories are real. Authenticity clears up the clutter in the marketplace, making your brand stand out.

This is almost like bringing the word-of-mouth recommendations to a commercial. Bringing real stories into focus, gives the powerful impression to consumers that this is something you can trust. These are not made-up stories to build some kind of attention-grabbing campaign – but these are real stories that anyone can relate to and trust. These campaigns resonate better with your audiences.

According to a study, a third of the respondents agreed that a brand that featured real people was more likely to know and understand what real people want and like.

By humanizing the campaign through using real people, you can make your brand real to people and help them identify with it better.

Don’t downplay the power of the right music – the right music as the background score to your commercial can really influence your audiences. Want to set a retro 70s feel to your spot? Just add the music of the 70s as a background score. Will take you right to the time period you want, in an instant.

Long-standing credibility is something to be celebrated. For Levi’s, to proclaim to the world, that their 501 jeans have been worn and loved for 150 years is something that will establish a very high level of credibility among its audience. In a consumer’s mind, to think that a product has been around for 150 years, immediately establishes it as something great; something that maybe one must also have (if one hasn’t already). So if you and your brand have been around for a milestone, celebrate it! (Need not be 150 years) and make sure you let the world know!


Bill Walker

Bill is a marketing strategist who believes in the power of storytelling. He's known for his creativity, wit, and ability to connect with audiences across all channels. When he's not crafting marketing campaigns, you can find him hiking in the mountains or reading a good book.


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