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Levis – Shrink to Fit 59 seconds (July 1994)

Media Language

This advertisement opens with an establishing shot in long distance to reveal a barren and
desolate landscape. Non-diagetic music helps to create an ominous and moody tone. The
scene is shot in black and white. The connotations attached to the landscape, music, and
black and white film suggest that the setting is not in the present day. The idea that the
setting is not contemporary is reinforced when a horse and cart enters the landscape. There
is a close up shot to two teenage girls sitting in the cart. This is juxtaposed with a close up
shot of a man and woman. The audience can read that the adults are the parents of the two
girls. It is, also, clear that the setting is not modern due to the costumes which the actors
are wearing. The female actors wear long dresses and hats and the male actor wears a suit
and hat. The costumes might be recognized by some audience as those worn by Quakers – a
strict religious group formed in the 18th Century in the USA. However, in order to get the
preferred reading (the reading media producers hope the audience will take from a text), it
is not necessary that the audience has previous knowledge or awareness of this religious
group. Most members of the audience would be able to read the non-verbal structures of
meaning in the text: the old-fashioned clothing along with the characters’ facial expressions
– dour, stern, serious, - allow the audience to recognize that they are strict and religious
people. This is, further, reinforced due to the fact that the characters are sitting upright and
are not talking or laughing.

Colour codes also carry connotative meaning: the black costumes of the parents contrast
with the white costumes of the two teenage girls. Resultingly, the black costumes may be
seen as signifying the somber and religious attitude of the parents. It could be argued that
the white/light coloured costumes of the two teenage girls signifies their sexual purity and
innocence. Furthermore, there is a camera shot from the point of view of the older teenage
daughter as she gazes at the beauty of the solitary landscape. The music changes slightly to
an operatic sound – the high sweet voices can, thus, be linked to the older teenage daughter
associating her, once again, to sweetness, beauty and innocence.

A long distance shot reveals the objective of the family’s journey as the audience sees them
sitting having a picnic. Again, there is no talking or laughing and the mother is reading a
book. It will be assumed by the audience that the book is a bible reinforcing the earlier
signifiers. The operatic music continues and is aligned with the visual codes of a peaceful
scene.

A medium distance shot follows the girls as they go wandering off into the woods. The
woods are connotative for danger and excitement- entering the unknown. The lighting is
dark, shadowy and we can assume the woods are inviting for the teenage girls. They take
off their hats and the camera focuses solely on their legs as they run through the woods.
They are smiling. These non-verbal structures contrast greatly with their earlier behavior
and the connotations attached to their actions suggest that they want to rebel against their
restrictive lives.

The next shot is a medium distance shot from the point of view of the older teenage
daughter. She is admiring the scenery – mountains and lake. The operatic music changes
suddenly to a contemporary tune ( Stiltskin – ‘Inside’) as there is a close up shot of an older
youth in the water. He is washing himself and, from the waist up, appears to be naked. He
is muscular and fit. The camera switches back to the girl who is standing voyeuristically
gazing at his nakedness. Her shocked expression coupled with her positioning – she is half
hidden behind a tree - signifies , once again, her sexual innocence and naivety. The music
speeds up as fast paced editing is introduced. These techniques help to create excitement.
The camera shots switch between the girl gazing at the boy and the boy washing his naked
torso. Extreme closeup shots focus on parts of the boy’s body. The girl’s enthralled
expression signifies that she is sexually aroused by what she is witnessing. She fondles a
necklace around her neck suggesting that she is nervous and excited. The extreme closeup
shots switch between the girl’s lips and then the boy’s lips and then a shot of the girl’s eye.
The focus on these individual parts heightens the sexual tension within the scene. The water
in this scene also helps to create a sense of the erotic: a closeup shot focuses on drops of
crystal clear water lying on the boy’s shoulder; cascades of water fall from his chin; he
shakes his head and the water flies around in an arc. The camera focuses on the girl who
tries to divert her gaze but fails. This signifies her temptation to sin.

The camera moves to a medium distance shot of the younger sister who is holding up a pair
of trousers. It can be assumed that these trousers belong to the boy and this suggests to the
audience that he is fully naked. As he begins to emerge from the water the older teenage
daughter places her hand over her mouth signifying shock at what she expects to see and,
reinforcing, her sexual innocence. Fast paced editing is used to juxtapose the boy’s
emerging body and the shocked expression on the girl’s face. Ultimately, it creates a tone of
excitement. The boy finally emerges wearing a pair of jeans. He bends over – the audience
can assume he is checking the fit. He exits the water. The camera shot moves back to the
water as the music slows down. An old and unattractive man appears in the water as the
girls move away to watch the boy again as he climbs on a horse. The camera moves back
again to the old man who scratches his bald head – signifying that he is puzzled as his
trousers are missing (it is the trousers belonging to the old man which the girls have taken).
The music speeds up again as the girls’ watch the boy walk towards his horse.

The meaning is anchored at the end of the text by the slogan: “In 1675 Levis jeans only
came shrink to fit” The slogan is printed in white which stands out against the dark sky. It
can also relate to the colour contrast of costumes mentioned earlier.

Narrative

The narrative in this advertisement follows a linear structure. Further, it fits in with
Todorov’s narrative theory: at the beginning of the ad there is equilibrium in the sense that
the family appear peaceful and united. Desequilibrium occurs when the girls see the semi-
naked boy – he can be viewed as a threat to the girls’ innocence and the family’s way of life.
A new equilibrium is achieved when no contact is made between the young male and female
characters and the boy exits the scene. From this, I would argue that order and harmony are
restored. An audience would clearly enjoy predicting the outcome to this narrative. Until the
slogan anchors meaning at the end we are unsure what is being advertised and how the
narrative will end. At certain points in this advert, the non-diagetic sound in the form of
music and the fast paced editing play an important role in the narrative. Contemporary
music and fast paced editing are associated with the young people in this advert and help to
create a tone of excitement. Slower music and editing are associated with shots of the
Quaker family.
Genre

This particular text belongs to the genre of advertising. There are certain iconographic
features in the text – the barren and rugged landscape is identifiable with the Western
genre. This links to the characters – Quakers – since this group was first established in
America. There are three young characters in this advert who are used to ‘sell’ the product.
The older teenage girl and the boy, in particular, are aesthetically pleasing to an audience. I
would argue that young, attractive people quite frequently appear in the genre of
advertising – particularly, if the product is targeted at a young person. The audience’s
expectations of this advertisement are fulfilled – the text is targeted at young people who
would enjoy determining the outcome of this advert and would like the humorous ‘twist’ at
the end.

Audiences

This text is addressed to teenagers or young people in their 20’s. The target audience are
young men. Based on ‘Attitudes and Beliefs’ demographics, the target audience might be an
Emulator-Achiever – a young person who is successful, enjoys acquiring thing and buying
brand names. I believe this because Levi-Strauss is a very well-known name and is usually
targeted towards young people. There are certain assumptions made about the
characteristics of the audience within this text: a young audience would enjoy the humour
within the text; a young audience would also relate to the idea of sexual rebellion and
temptation. The audience would likely receive this text with other people – advertising in
the cinema or on the television. The audience would, thus, enjoy the shared humour. The
preferred reading of this text links to John Berger’s theory on advertising: he argues that
advertising works upon our insecurities and the need to purchase a product in order to feel
‘esteemed’ in the eyes of others. In this text, the advertisement implies that if men buy Levi
jeans, they will be sexy and attractive to the opposite sex. Further, this product also links to
concepts such as ruggedness, independence and originality suggesting that that is the type
of person you will become if you wear Levi jeans. However, whether the reader takes a
preferred reading from this text depends on their age, gender, background etc. As I am
female and older than the target audience, I find this advert humorous but do not ‘buy into’
the idea that buying these jeans will make any man more desirable to the opposite sex. In
fact, I find that idea quite ridiculous. I take an opposed reading.

Representations

In this text, there are two groups being represented: the young and the old. The young
people in this advert are attractive and tempted to rebel against the strict upbringing
imposed upon them by the older characters. The younger people are also associated with
an attractive setting eg glistening water and are, thus, associated with an aesthetically
appealing set. The older characters (the parents) by contrast appear physically
plain/unattractive, dull and humourless. A stereotypical representation is applied to the
Quaker family – in particular the older characters. Obviously, not all Quaker people have the
physical features and personality traits depicted in this text. This representation might be
viewed as offensive by this group. As they are a minority group who isolate themselves from
modern society, it is difficult for Quakers to have an opportunity for self-representation. The
representation of the young man in this advertisement can also be seen as offensive. At no
point during this advertisement does the audience see his face. Indeed, the camera shots
‘dismember’ him so that the audience experiences a variety of camera shots all focusing on
different parts of his body. In this way, he may be seen as being objectified by the audience
and, arguably, dehumanized. The message here seems to be that the physique of someone
is more important than the whole person – including their personality.

Institutions

Levi Strauss & Co. is a privately owned company by the descendants of the original maker of
the jeans – the Bavarian immigrant Levi Strauss. The company was founded in 1853 in the
USA and is a globally recognized name. Since it is such a well-established company it is
viewed by many as embodying the values and ideology of American culture. The setting of
this advertisement helps to reinforce this idea – it is set in the time of American pioneers
linking the company themselves to American heritage and immigration. Perhaps, this also
relates the jeans to ruggedness and personal freedom. Indeed, the jeans, themselves, are
viewed as an American icon. The product has also been linked to many Hollywood greats: in
the 1950’s Marlon Brando wore Levi jeans in ‘The Wild Ones’ and James Dean also wore the
jeans in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. This has helped to underline the association with the jeans
to American culture and values and promote the product to a youthful target audience who
relate the jeans to American values such as rebellion, freedom and sexiness.