My friends are blogging about this viral video of guys doing backflips into their jeans. So neat! So shareable! So worth the million views the three-day-old clip already earned! But I could tell instantly (and I have no idea why no one else did) that this was a stealth ad — because it's a direct copy of a stealth ad that got over 3 million views last year.
Click to viewAfter the first guy jumped into his jeans, I realized what the whole video would be: a shot-for-shot rehash of a viral ad for Ray-Ban. The two ads are so similar that the creators (unless they're phenomenally short-sighted) clearly wanted to be discovered. First, let's look at the two ads:
Levi's, 5 May 2008: Guys do backflips, swinging jumps, and other stunts and land in their pants.
Ray-Ban, 6 May 2007: A guy catches sunglasses on his face in increasingly impossible maneuvers: Off a house, off a bridge, in a moving car.
The stories are the same: A simple trick to establish what we're watching. Then increasingly elaborate iterations, culminating in a stunt so dramatic that it requires a slow-motion replay.
The music is the same: A cool innocuous background beat loosely timed to the action.
The editing is the same: Quick pacing. Slick with dramatic angles, but calculatedly rugged with lingering shots on the guys congratulating each other.
The packaging is the same: Ray-Ban's ad was posted by "neverhidefilms," a YouTube user with no previous videos. The new Levi's ad comes from "unbuttonedfilms," another first-time user. The new ad is one day shy of coming a year after the old ad. The titles are analagous: "Guy catches glasses with face" versus "Guys backflip into jeans." No product is mentioned.
While Ray-Ban's ad was launched anonymously, the creative team behind it soon came forward. Josh Warner, president of The Feed Company, explained how he promoted this viral video to Adweek. The team posted more videos, now more obviously advertising Ray-Ban though still without using a traditional ad format, to the YouTube account that hosted the original viral ad.
Note the line at 0:36 of the Levi's ad: "At least there's no zipper." That's what clinched it for me: Levi's is the only jeans brand to actively advertise its zipperless buttoned jeans. The user name "unbuttonedfilms" corroborates this.
How well it's worked
Blogs like Laughing Squid and Neatorama posted the video with no guess about the creators (though political blog Hot Air guessed this might be a Levi's ad). Even G4TV's Attack Of The Show discussed the ad, crediting it to an unnamed group of gymnasts and making no mention of Levi's.
And of course even this debunking is giving them publicity. (Not that I mind as long as I'm getting some too.)
Obviously the new ad has the same goals as the old: to market a product without actually naming it, by appealing to the public's love of Internet stunt videos. Most likely, The Feed Company made the new Levi's ad. If any other agency was ripping them off, they wouldn't release the ad a year later with the exact same techniques. And in a few days, The Feed Company will come out, because who can really deny themselves another round of publicity?