Levi’s tryst with AI and DEI – something every marketer must watch out for!

Published: March 29, 2023

min read

Levi’s made a big announcement recently.

They said that they are tying up with Lalaland.ai, which is a digital fashion studio that ‘builds models’ – customized models that are AI-generated. They also went on to say that they were going to test this technology that produced these AI-generated models later on this year to supplement human models in order to increase the “number and diversity” of models for products in a sustainable way.

Diversity, equity and inclusion is a top priority.

Levi Strauss said in a press release

The company said it is aware that its clients and consumers want to see models that actually look like them.

This AI technology can potentially assist us by supplementing models and unlocking a future where we can enable customers to see our products on more models that look like themselves, creating a more personal and inclusive shopping experience.

And boy! Did that create a storm!

There was an outcry on social media. One person said that the conversation on diversity has hit the “jumped the shark level” when Levi’s chose to create AI-generated models rather than hire actual Black and Brown models. Someone even said that this was a way to avoid hiring and paying models who are not white!

Is this their definition of increasing diversity? Or do they really understand it starts with cultural insights of what the people they are marketing to want? Is their answer just putting a Black AI-generated model in their ad and that checks the box.

Jerri DeVard, founder of the Black Executive CMO Alliance.

This has left the big denim brand scrambling to save its image.

Our recent announcement of a partnership with Lalaland.ai did not properly represent certain aspects of the program. For that, we take responsibility. We do not see this pilot as a means to advance diversity or as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity and inclusion goals and it should not have been portrayed as such.

Levi Strauss press release

Marketing and DEI

This whole episode raises the question, are diversity and inclusion two separate issues!? Like the cover of Vogue that featured AI-generated South Asian women as cover models? Not quite the same as actual models.

Diversity, Equality and Inclusion are issues that Gen Z supports. They see increased diversity as something that is good for the society. They think brands should embrace diversity. And they support the ones that do. For them, diversity is not just about race or religion but includes gender as well.

Gen Z is all about equality and ethics. Diversity for them includes all kinds of disabilities too. They are a mindful generation.

Against this backdrop, marketers must be very careful to craft their campaigns and messaging so they would appeal to these sensibilities in Gen Z. That is vital. Because they won’t hesitate to call you out if you appear to disrespect these sentiments in any way, or worse still boycott your brand and be very vocal about it.

This generation has grown up with inclusion and diversity and equality in all aspects of their lives and so expect – they even demand – that it be so. They won’t stand for any slight bending of the rules – the “we are inclusive, but we use AI-generated models to portray inclusive diversity” won’t work with them at all. They don’t do well with just lip-service.

They are the real deal. And they expect it from businesses and the brands that they favor.


Grace Wang

Grace is an advertising professional who keeps abreast of the latest and greatest in the marketing and advertising space. She is a traditionalist in lifestyle and modernist in her profession. Outside of marketing and advertising, she helps younger generation try and adapt traditional lifestyle for a healthy living.


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