I Cannot Lie: Levi’s and Old Navy Got Back


This item was originally published on October 11th, 2010 at Fast Company.

Let me start this blog with a gratuitously sexy play on words: In apparel marketing, asses are hot right now.

Lacking any actual product innovations for the fall, both Old Navy and Levi’s have introduced a fit finder based on the size and shape of your butt–if you’re a woman, that is, as they don’t seem to have one for men. Presumably men don’t have the same problems as women do finding jeans that actually fit.

What’s interesting about these two campaigns is the difference in branding. First there was the Old Navy Booty Reader. At this Web site, Madame Eva, the fortune-telling mannequin, guides you through some questions regarding your usage and body shape. The next step is quite disconcerting–you have to use a Web-cam or upload a picture of
your bottom. Initial reactions:

  • What?!?!?!?
  • Is it even possible to take a picture of my own booty?
  • Am I allowed to keep my clothes on?
  • Is this even legal?
  • I don’t want to move–that’s why I’m shopping online while sitting on my booty

If you suck it in – I mean, suck it up – and trust that “photos of your booty won’t be shared, my dear,” you are given your booty sign (I’m Denimi, saucy!) and 3 denim recommendations from cuts such as Flirt (mid-rise), Sweetheart (classic), Rock Star (low-rise), Diva (low-rise), and Dreamer (mid-rise). The Booty Reader is a great idea, but how many women are really going to take pictures of their butts? It’s probably more fun to use existing photos of famous butts, as a Washington Post blogger did by uploading photos of some famous pop-culture booties: JLo, Lady Gaga, and Bradley Cooper.

It’s also interesting to note that there’s no link from the Old Navy Web site to the Booty Reader, nor is there a big in-store campaign for it–it’s strictly viral. Maybe ON wanted to be sure they could kill it if the publicity was negative, or if it bombed.

Levi’s approach is a bit more straightforward and a lot less butt-obsessed. Their Curve ID page starts with 3 Levi’s models wearing the tightest, most unflattering skinny jeans imaginable. This is no fault of the models, since skinny jeans are truly unnatural for post-pubescent women. So, once you embrace the idea of dressing for trend rather than flattering your body type, Levi’s is here to help. After you take a brief body quiz, including measuring yourself in various places, you are categorized as Slight Curve, Demi Curve, or Bold Curve (me) and you can shop or diet accordingly.

Old Navy has always been a playful, youthful brand, and by using the word “booty”, they’ve helped take some of the taboo out of that particular term and raised it to the level of another funny synonym for butt. Levi’s, as befits their more mature, premium brand, has gone for a sciencey-sounding solution that’s all empowerful–these jeans “celebrate your shape” and “honor your curves”.

The difference between the Old Navy branding and the Levi’s approach is also reflected in their price points. ON jeans are around $30 a pair, but can cost as little as $10; the styles change from season to season, and the less-than-durable construction reinforces the idea that Old Navy clothes are “disposable”. Levi’s Curve ID jeans, in contrast, start at $60 and go as high as $80. (For that price, you’d better be getting something you can wear for more than a few months!)

The fanny-fixation does not stop with Levi’s and Old Navy. Earlier this year, American Apparel (which I’m not going to link to – their advertising is one tiny step above soft porn and I can’t, in good conscience, send them any traffic) held its online competition of user submitted photos to find the Best Bottom in the World. Aside from American Apparel’s contest (which was a transparent promotion using adult content), maybe the denim leaders are on to something. It is hard to find flattering jeans. If a brand had a cut “made” for me, I would stick with them for life–or at least until the next denim trend.

PS: See also my friend Nancy Friedman’s blogs about the current use of booty and the Curve ID campaign.


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