Walt Whitman for Levi’s

whitman 001In a brilliant move, advertising firm Weiden+Kennedy enlisted the help of the most American of poets, Walt Whitman, to introduce a viral campaign for Levi’s Go Forth” campaign. It positions the denim retailer as the most American of clothing companies. Two videos shot for the campaign feature Whitman’s poetry.

Borrowing selections from his seminal work Leaves of Grass, the first spot showed on cinema screens this summer. “America” includes a wax cylinder recording of the poem read, many believe, by Whitman himself.

The second comes from a newly rereleased recording of Leaves of Grass from 1957, courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. The voice heard on the track “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” is that of actor Will Geer, then a member of The University Players. Geer went on to play Whitman in a 1966 Broadway production of Richard Baldridge’s We, Comrades Three based on the poet’s work.

LOLA Walt Whitman T Shirt*In other news: To show their appreciation of Whitman, NY-based LOLA offers a T-shirt with a loving tribute.

Read the full text of “America.”

Read the full text of “Pioneers! O Pioneers!”

Read more about the Go Forth campaign.


Walt Whitman, 1819-1892


  1. M.R.
    September 3, 2009

    Sadly, though, as American as Levi touts itself, they have, as of last year, closed their last American jean factory and have outsourced all garment production to developing nations.

    The brand that established just American manufacturing standards is no longer.

    Like ol’ Walt on that T-shirt, the current Levi’s is merely an image…

  2. pieter
    September 5, 2009

    “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
    If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. ” Whitman, song of myself

    I’m pretty sure he never said anything about looking for him in a jeans ad.

    Is nothing sacred?

  3. dallas foster
    September 6, 2009

    @ M.R. …but they moved all production overseas because they were trying to meet the wholesale price demands of the quintessential american company, especially in this recession, Walmart… so that totally makes them more american right?

  4. ML
    September 12, 2009

    M.R. – you said it all. Somehow, the sense of shame about that point seems to have been lost on Levis.

  5. J. L. Darden
    October 14, 2009

    Someone should should doublecheck; this voiceover sounds more like Burgess Meredith than Will Geer to me.

  6. wpofd
    October 14, 2009

    Pardon me? A “brilliant move”? The “most American of poets”?

    If you even remotely cared about art — art, mind you, not “creative”, you’d be ashamed that these ads exist.

    Secondly, if someone at an agency would crack open a book, they might’ve learned that Whitman was anti-capitalism and would abhor the use of his poetry to sell jeans.

    Worse than the Bank of Scotland poetry ads.

    Lazy fucking advertising strikes again.

  7. Joe Public
    November 9, 2009

    These pompous “Go Forth” “ads” have ANY merit at to the extent that they inspire a COUPLE of people to comment about it. Here’s MY comment: I WILL NOT BE BUYING LEVIS ANYMORE. That’s my reaction to the ads. These are suppose to establish the new “cool”?! The ads look as if they were made by amateurs. Why not HIRE amateurs to do amateur work?! When was the LAST time SPIELBERG made a $35,000 film? When was the last time (ever?) that Spielberg made a $35,000 film and tried to pass it off as his own? Spielberg doesn’t MAKE $35,000 films. These ads are stupid and nonsensical and irritating.

  8. UncleBongo
    December 11, 2009

    Oh, simmer down, all of you.

    I thought the ads were evocative and moving, and perfectly timed for the Great Recession when we all felt a bit beaten down. The words and images build roughly on each other to summon us to something new and great and, OK, crass and commercial, but vibrant in the way Americans can be at their best–making the most of what they have and making a pitch. I wish our government leaders could be so inspiring.

    Yeah, fine–it’s both manipulative and strangely ineffective in getting me to buy Levis, but I appreciate the effort.

    And by the way, while I acknowledge the irony of the sort of faux authenticity on display here, this in no way is an amateur effort. Even some kinds of pastiche take craftsmanship.

  9. CaptainThom
    December 17, 2009

    I knew Burgess Meredith 25 years ago and the voice certainly sounds like his.

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