Friday, August 13, 2010

We Are All Braddock

Criticize Levi's, the company, all you want. Using Braddock to sell jeans has no bearing on the more controversial labor practices in use. If anything, the storm about "Go Forth" campaign has done much to highlight the plight of the American worker. The advertising has also introduced a lot of people to the situation in Braddock:

In its most recent quarterly earnings call with analysts, Levi's attributed its recently increasing sales--up 8% worldwide--to higher-quality, better-designed jeans. It's true, by the way. Levi's jeans are much better than in the recent past. I just bought three pair, my first Levi's jeans in more than 20 years.

But what got me into the Levi's store in SoHo to see those better jeans is their higher-quality, more engaging advertising--specifically a series of mini-documentaries about the efforts to save Braddock, PA, a rusted and debilitated steel town on Pittsburgh's edge that is fighting for survival. The documentary series is one of the big new initiatives in the jeans-maker's "Go Forth" ad campaign, now entering its second year. ...

... At the core, we have a feisty brand struggling to remake itself that has associated its struggle with a town trying to remake itself. This is a good thing, not a bad one, in my opinion. They also have given a nod to media integration--telling different parts of their story from the web to billboards to point-of-sale--playing out the Braddock connection in their outdoor and, most effectively, in their stores, where strikingly stylized photos of the town cover the walls and there is a very effective handout explaining what the Braddock stuff is all about. And they're bringing more attention to Braddock and the painful impact of the steel's industry's decline, which also is a good thing.

Braddock's story is being told in SoHo and around the country (perhaps around the world). Why are so many people up in arms if Levi's leverages the publicity to sell jeans? You shouldn't have been buying Levi's before the campaign if the labor practices bother you. But that is no reason to dismiss the ads and the movie shorts as hypocritical. One can appreciate the good of the campaign and still hold Levi's feet to the fire.

Go forth and rebuild Detroit. Reinvest in America's cities. Wear domestically crafted textiles while you do it. Rust Belt boosters should be ecstatic about the spotlight on Braddock and the positive celebration of the urban frontier. The message, not the messenger, should be the focus.

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