News November 9, 2017

Levi’s issues apology over Australian live music focused menswear campaign

Caitlin Welsh
Levi’s issues apology over Australian live music focused menswear campaign

UPDATE: Levi Strauss Australia has provided TMN with a comment – read their full statement at the bottom of this article.

Levi’s yesterday issued an apology of sorts on their international Facebook brand page after a number of Australian music industry figures expressed disappointment in its latest music-focused menswear campaign.

The Live In Music campaign features a number of male Australian creatives working in music and related fields, and is a perfect fit for the denim brand’s long-running association with the music business. But the campaign, launched at a time when the Australian industry is particularly focused on inclusivity and representation of women, some have questioned why Levi’s chose to deploy its rich music-industry aesthetic for a menswear campaign. 

Lorrae McKenna, an artist manager based in Melbourne, wrote an impassioned Medium post that was widely shared over the weekend, saying that the visuals at the Melbourne launch of the campaign exclusively featured images of “seemingly macho white male[s] doing their thing”, with no women in sight.

“[I]t made me feel invisible, it made me feel angry for all the women within the music industry who work super hard everyday just to be seen as an equal to their male counterparts. And here I was, at a party, which completely erased any existence of women within this space.

“I left the event with an extremely sour taste in my mouth.”

She went on to point out that this sentiment was reflected in some of the copy for the campaign: “From the front man, to the music fan. There’s an entire industry of hard working individuals committed to long nights, early mornings, the sweaty front row and days on the road for the one thing they love: music. We may have invented the blue jean but these guys invented the music scene…”

One of the artists in the campaign responded to McKenna’s post in support. 

Levi’s posted the following statement on Facebook yesterday in response to the criticisms and ensuing discussions on social media.

The reference to dressing “the front man” also appeared in the original online copy for the Levi’s Music Prize on the BIGSOUND website. That copy has since been updated to refer to “the singer”. 

McKenna told TMN this morning that she found the official response from Levi’s “disappointing”.

“I feel like it was a #sorrynotsorry response to a very important issue and they completely missed the point I was trying to make in my article,” she said. “In their apology they used language like ’We sincerely apologise to anyone who was disappointed by this.’ I was not disappointed that women were not included in their campaign. My issue was that they painted a picture of the Australian music industry through several different marketing mediums which completely erased the existence of women in that space all together.

“The campaign made a clear statement that the music industry is a man’s space, that was created by ‘these guys’ as their marketing copy reads. Until there is an adjustment with the messaging in this campaign I think apologising for people’s disappointment is very futile. I have not been contacted directly by anyone from Levi’s at this point however I would be very happy to meet with them to discuss ways to amend the messages within this campaign.”

Renowned music community activist and SLAM founder Helen Marcou was one of the people who shared McKenna’s post, and cited what she sees as the campaign’s failure “to read the community, and what the expectations are”.

“If you’re trying to tap into the ’cool’ of a community, particularly with a large multinational like [Levi’s], there has to be some reading of them, and some accountability, ultimately,” she told TMN.

The iconic denim brand has long been associated with the music industry in Australia and overseas. Like several other brands notable for their support of music, such as Converse, Vans, RedBull and Jack Daniels, Levi’s provide significant amounts of sponsorship and support for live and recorded music events on both a large-scale and community level.

Levi’s are also doing positive and inclusive work with related initiatives such as the #shapemyworld campaign and visuals featuring artists like SZA in other markets.

The $100,000 Levi’s Music Prize, a brand new initiative which is being awarded at this year’s BIGSOUND, is one of the most generous prize pools ever offered in the local industry.

“Where the Levi’s Music Prize is concerned, BIGSOUND works closely with Levi’s to ensure that gender equity is a key consideration of how the prize is administered,” a media spokesperson for BIGSOUND told TMN.

Due to a miscommunication, Levi Strauss Australia weren’t able to comment in time for TMN’s initial publication deadline, but have now kindly provided TMN with the below statement further to their Facebook post: 

Levi Strauss Australia recently launched its Australian menswear brand campaign titled ‘Live in Music’ to promote the launch of the Levi’s® new men’s jeans range. The campaign ran in New Zealand earlier this year and just launched in Australia.
 
As the commercial outcome of the campaign is to promote our new men’s jeans range, only men were shot in the campaign – highlighting unsung male heroes of both the Australian and New Zealand music industry. Including women in this campaign may have been confusing and would have diluted the core product message; given that it is an advertisement for men’s jeans.
 
However, we understand from the feedback received from the music industry about the lack of diversity in the campaign, that the exclusion of women has been interpreted by some as being a statement that women are not centrally important to the music industry. This couldn’t be more false. In fact, we believe that women are integral to the industry’s success.
 
When we launched our Live in Levi’s® campaign, we enlisted Haim (three female sisters) and Sleighbells (a female vocalist-led band) to celebrate. When we launched our new women’s jean collection, we enlisted Alicia Keys as our global brand ambassador, and what we loved about Alicia was her strong stance on female empowerment. Since these big brand launch moments we’ve continued to partner with strong females – SZA, Kilo Kish, Kavka, to name a few.
 
Supporting musicians – both established and up and coming – is hugely important to the Levi’s® Brand. In 2016, we partnered with Alicia Keys in the US and Skepta in the UK, to launch the Levi’s® Music Program. It’s an ongoing program to support and encourage youth by providing them with inspiration and setting up local programs throughout the world dedicated to music education. In Australia, the Levi’s® Music Prize launched earlier this year and is open to Australian musicians regardless of race, sex, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. 
 
Levi’s® has a long history of supporting positive change across many social causes globally, including those affecting the LGBTQI+ community, HIV and AIDS research, worker’s rights, human rights, racial discrimination and environmental sustainability programs. For further information, you can refer to our website: http://www.levistrauss.com/our-story/heritage-timeline/heritage-timeline-2/     
 

This post has been updated since initial publication with comments from Levi Strauss Australia, Lorrae McKenna and BIGSOUND.

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