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G.O. IV and Go Forth: Levi‟s Convergence Marketing using an ARG The first packages arrived in early October, 2009. The mysterious envelopes, sent from the Levi Strauss and Company Archive, included several items: a photograph of Grayson Ozias IV, a bandana, and the URL to a website (figure 1). Perplexed and intrigued, the design and fashion bloggers who received these packages did what any twenty-first century netizen would do; they turned to Google. There, reported one recipient, they found “some cryptic results like a Twitter profile, a Craigslist posting and then some PR related stuff.”1 On YouTube, these intrepid bloggers found the video, produced by Levi‟s, “Who is Grayson Ozias IV and where is his fortune?” In it, a seemingly old recording of Grayson Ozias, verified by “Levi historians,” promised that $100,000 was buried somewhere in America.2 At the same time these packages and videos made their way to bloggers, Levi‟s launched its Go Forth advertising campaign with a high production value, minute-long commercial featuring the wax-cylinder audio of Walt Whitman reading his poem “America.”3 The Levi‟s Go Forth campaign would, by the end of November, mobilize a large online community to decipher the story of Grayson Ozias IV. In several respects, the Go Forth campaign actualizes Henry Jenkins‟ concepts of convergence culture and transmedia storytelling: it deploys multiple forms of media across mediums, reacts to media objects, and activates a large, geographically dispersed knowledge community. The search for Grayson Ozias IV‟s fortune (GOIV), an augmented reality game (ARG) within the larger Go Forth campaign, is truly a sweepstakes for the era of collective intelligence.4 However, because there was only one winner and Levi‟s ultimately set limits on the game, the campaign falls short of a full embrace of the convergence culture mentality. At the most basic level, the Go Forth campaign achieved convergence by presence on multiple platforms: blogs (figure 1), print ads (figure 2), television (figure 3), and online-only content (figure 4). The campaign also harnessed multiple media but ensured that the style and tone of the ads is consistent across platforms and clearly form part of a coherent whole. Each individual advertisement stands on its own but together they create a larger more profound whole.5
Michael Williams, “Who the F*%K is Grayson Ozias IV?” Selectism (blog), 6 October 2009, <http://selectism.com/columns/michaelwilliams/2009/10/06/who-the-fk-is-grayson-ozias-iv/> (3 November 20011). 2 This video is available on YouTube http://youtu.be/whV155CgVyg 3 The advertisement is available on YouTube http://youtu.be/_uBsV8wAEhw 4 For the sake of clarity, in this paper I will refer to the ARG game as GOIV and the broader campaign as Go Forth. The ARG game existed within the larger campaign and was dependent on it. The commercials and print ads could stand alone, if a bit mysteriously. The ARG components could not. 5 The overall effectiveness of Go Forth as a campaign to sell jeans remains hotly contested. This paper will focus specifically on the relationship between GOIV and Go Forth and leave effectiveness as a sales tool to other scholars. For critiques of the Go Forth campaign, see Bob Garfield, “Levi's Target Unlikely to 'Go Forth' and Buy Its Jeans: Wieden Spot Too Romantic for Audience Sensitive to Being Manipulated,” AdAge Blogs, < http://adage.com/article/ad-review/bob-garfield-s-ad-review-levi-s-romantic-target/137733/> (6 November 2011).
Embedded within the larger Go Forth campaign is the hunt for Grayson Ozias IV‟s fortune (G.O. IV or GO fourth). The story of this fictional character, created entirely by the ad men working for Levi‟s, sets in motion a multi-part augmented reality game that shifts Go Forth from sophisticated multi-media advertising to a transmedia story. As a transmedia project, the advertising house Wieden & Kennedy built a story that “unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole.”6 With the ARG, Levi‟s consciously built a world and invites an active, responsive, and “noisy” public to enter it. To solve the puzzles players had to talk back to Levi‟s and to each other. In fact, this “talking back” is inherent to the game‟s catalyzing clue. In the “Who is Grayson Ozias IV and where is his fortune?” video, the player hears a recording of Ozias that mimics the first television ad‟s Whitman audio. Ozias says, “but after hearing Whitman… this great man‟s portrait of our land emboldened me conquer fear and go forth…”7 The game‟s content and process revolves around responding to media texts: Ozias, a fictional character, responds to Whitman, an historic actor, in order to encourage the audience to become players, to take up Ozias‟ challenge and go forth as part of GOIV. Taking part in GOIV, a game that required action online and offline in cities as distant from each other as New York, New Orleans, and Durango, CO, required players to build a “knowledge community.” Although some dedicated players drove hours in the rain to retrieve clues, all players needed the help of others decipher codes, retrieve artifacts, and report back.8 With $100,000 and advertising exposure at stake, however, Levi‟s built the game to ensure that the clues remained public: the “wax cylinder” recordings were available online and when players retrieved a physical clue Levi‟s made sure to record the moment and post the video online. Even if a faction of players wanted to hoard basic information in order to prevent new people from joining the game, Levi‟s structured the website and the process to ensure that the game remained open up until the end. Their motives were, no doubt, to increase participation in a marketing campaign as much as to ensure fairness. However, these precautions may not have been needed. In addition to the official GOIV website, players created their own blogs, wikis, and videos to discuss the game.9 Despite the open nature of the game‟s process and the collective effort of thousands of players, there was just one winner. Less than two months after the legend of Grayson Ozias emerged in online, Laura Hall completed the final cypher and was flown, by Levi‟s, to the Utah desert to retrieve the treasure.10 It is unclear how her fellow players felt about Hall‟s solitary claim to the prize and the publicity, but in the note Hall found in the treasure chest the “Levi‟s
Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Updated Ed. (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 97. 7 This video is available on YouTube < http://youtu.be/whV155CgVyg> (7 November 2011). 8 “Grayson Ozias IV Fortune Found! The Levi's Brand Announces the $100,000 Winner,” Levi‟s Corporation press release, 24 November 2009, on PR Newswire < http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/grayson-ozias-ivfortune-found-72821987.html> (5 November 2011). 9 See list at the end of this paper for a selection of these websites and videos. 10 “Grayson Ozias IV Fortune Found!”
Historians” wrote that Hall and her fellow travelers, “have discovered America in each other.”11 This acknowledgement of a rewarding, collective effort highlights that Hall had not arrived at the site of Ozias‟ fortune without the aid of other gamers. Nevertheless, she alone received the prize. Levi‟s kept the game open to ensure people participated in their marketing campaign but set clear limits on how the community would move between the knowledge community, focused on solving puzzles, and the PR conventions of a sweepstakes—one lucky winner! After Hall claimed the prize and the flurry of publicity died down, the websites that emerged around the game turned dormant. As the object of a game sponsored by a major American brand, Grayson Ozias IV did not support the same kind of sprawling and ongoing knowledge community of a story like Star Wars or The Matrix. The story itself was a means to an end. The GOIV knowledge community organized around a specific project and process formed a core part of what held them together. Although players do seem to check-in on the game‟s archive pages, there does not appear to be any ongoing Ozias fan-fiction or attempts on the part of gamers or Levi‟s to create new ARGs based on Ozias. In July 2011, when Levi‟s took the Go Forth campaign global, they did so without building another ARG. Despite turning away from the innovative game format, the Go Forth commercials once again provided fodder for the convergence culture‟s active consumers. The July 2011 television commercial features images of youth riots and protest at a particularly tense political moment.12 Almost immediately, activists re-mixed the Levi‟s commercial to critique the brand‟s appropriation of political imagery. The spoof commercial ends with the exhortion to “go forth and destroy capitalism” and a Levi‟s logo that replaces “Levi‟s” with “revolt” (figure 5).13 In turn, media outlets like Ad Busters distributed the remixes to their readers and housed comment threads on the original ad and the remix.14 Although in 2011 Levi‟s may not have been quite as in control of the viewer‟s response as they were in 2009, as a whole, the Go Forth campaign suggests that “lifestyle” companies like Levi‟s, with the help of Avant-garde advertisers, are already harnessing convergence culture for explicitly commercial purposes. It also suggests that consumers, knowing full well that Levi‟s sponsored the game, are nevertheless willing to engage in a deep, meaningful way with a brand if they are given a compelling story and a chance to cooperate.
Video of Hall‟s final dig is available on the game‟s website in the “see the dig” section <http://www.goforthnow.com/fortune> (6 November 2011). 12 Matthew Newton, “Levi's Latest 'Go Forth' Ad Romanticizes Youth Riots At The Wrong Time,” Forbes.com, 10 August 2011, < http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewnewton/2011/08/10/levis-latest-go-forth-ad-romanticizesyouth-riots-at-the-wrong-time/> (3 November 2011). Levi‟s posted the 2011 Go Forth ad on its offical YouTube page < http://youtu.be/KT16DcHcjRA> (6 November 2011). 13 go4thREVOLT, “Go Forth and Revolt,” YouTube, 17 August 2011 <http://youtu.be/UVc8auO1vuA> (6 November 2011). 14 “Go Forth and Revolt,” Adbusters TV, 22 August 2011, <http://www.adbusters.org/abtv/go-forth-and-revolt.html> (6 November 2011).
Figure 1. Image of package blogger Jean Aw received from Levi’s. Jean Aw, “Levi’s Go Forth ARG,” NotCot, 7 October 2009 <http://www.notcot.com/archives/2009/10/levis-go-forth.php> (4 November 2011).
Figure 2. Who Was Grayson Ozias the IV and where is his fortune? Levi’s jeans advertisement. Jean Aw, “Levi’s Go Forth ARG,” NotCot, 7 October 2009 <http://www.notcot.com/archives/2009/10/levis-go-forth.php> (4 November 2011).
Figure 3. Screenshot from Levi’s Go Forth “America” television advertisement. YouTube. <http://youtu.be/_uBsV8wAEhw> (6 November 2011).
Figure 4. Screenshot of the Levi’s “The G.O. IV Fortune” game archive. <http://www.goforthnow.com/fortune> (6 November 2011).
Figure 5. Final frame of YouTube user go4thREVOLT‟s “Go Forth and Revolt” video response to the July 2011 Levi’s Go Forth commercial. 17 August 2011 <http://youtu.be/UVc8auO1vuA> (6 November 2011).
Works Consulted Aw, Jean. “Levi‟s Go Forth ARG.” NotCot. 7 October 2009. <http://www.notcot.com/archives/2009/10/levis-go-forth.php> (3 November 2011). Garfield, Bob. “Levi's Target Unlikely to 'Go Forth' and Buy Its Jeans: Wieden Spot Too Romantic for Audience Sensitive to Being Manipulated.” AdAge Blogs. < http://adage.com/article/ad-review/bob-garfield-s-ad-review-levi-s-romantictarget/137733/> (6 November 2011). “Go Forth and Revolt.” Adbusters TV. 22 August 2011 < http://www.adbusters.org/abtv/goforth-and-revolt.html>. (6 November 2011). Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. Revised. New York: NYU Press, 2008. Levi‟s Corporation. “Grayson Ozias IV Fortune Found! The Levi's Brand Announces the $100,000 Winner.” Levi‟s Corporation press release. 24 November 2009. PR Newswire < http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/grayson-ozias-iv-fortune-found72821987.html> (5 November 2011). Newton, Mathew. 2011. “Levi's Latest 'Go Forth' Ad Romanticizes Youth Riots At The Wrong Time” Forbes.com. < http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewnewton/2011/08/10/levislatest-go-forth-ad-romanticizes-youth-riots-at-the-wrong-time/>. (3 November 2011). Williams, Michael. “Who the F*%K is Grayson Ozias IV?” Selectism: Michael Williams’ Column (blog). 6 October 2009. <http://selectism.com/columns/michaelwilliams/2009/10/06/who-the-fk-is-grayson-oziasiv/> (3 November 20011). Selection game-related websites and YouTube videos GoForth.Wikibruce.com [game wiki] http://goforth.wikibruce.com/Home go4thREVOLT, “Go Forth and Revolt” [YouTube] http://youtu.be/UVc8auO1vuA Grayson Ozias IV [Twitter] https://twitter.com/#!/GraysonOziasIV Laura Hall, “Go Forth and Beyond” [blog] http://www.goforthandbeyond.com/ Levis, “Levi‟s Go Forth 2011 (English)” [YouTube] http://youtu.be/KT16DcHcjRA
--- GoForthForNow.com [website, archive of the game] http://www.goforthnow.com/fortune TheLevisGuy, “Levi‟s Go Forth „America‟” [YouTube] http://youtu.be/_uBsV8wAEhw --- “Who is Grayson Ozias IV and where is his fortune?” [YouTube] http://youtu.be/whV155CgVyg “Where is the Man in the Hat?” [blog] http://whereisthemaninthehat.tumblr.com/ “Who Was Grayson Ozias IV?” [Forum thread at Unfiction] http://forums.unfiction.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=28554
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