Levi's Pivots Its Festival Campaign Starring Hailey Bieber and Jaden Smith Amid Pandemic

Dhani Mau

Without festival season, the denim brand is adapting its marketing for a generation stuck at home.

Like many brands — particularly those courting younger shoppers — Levi's usually devotes a not-insignificant amount of resources this time of year towards activating at music festivals like Coachella, where it dresses tons of musicians, celebrities and influencers in addition to hosting events. And now that those festivals can't happen, it's adapting its marketing for a generation stuck at home.

When the brand shot its latest campaign — starring previous campaign star Hailey Bieber alongside pal and fellow "friend of the brand" Jaden Smith — festival season was the focus. Photographed outdoors in a sunny field surrounded by palm trees, the images instantly bring Coachella's desert environs to mind. But rather than scrap the whole campaign or simply release it out of context, Levi's decided to simply pivot the messaging.

"Initially, the campaign was conceived with the idea of festival in mind; what we wanted to do was feature young people that embodied the spirit of Gen-Z today," explained Levi's CMO Jen Sey over the phone Monday morning, the day of the campaign's launch. "Clearly there are no festivals right now, but as we looked at the content we felt it was incredibly relevant even though we won't be going off to the desert this year." (Sey also wrote a personal blog post about the campaign and the way she's navigating a festival-free world.)

Instead, the brand hopes the images put forth a feeling of youthful optimism. "When I looked at the campaign and we talked about it, we felt it would still resonate with people if we turned the messaging from 'get out there and enjoy festivals,' to the spirit of what that's all about — inclusion, youth empowerment, celebration of life — that it would still land with relevance," noted Sey.

At ages 21 and 23, respectively, Smith and Bieber represent a demographic Levi's is trying to court, in addition to the spirit of youthful optimism and authenticity the brand wants to convey. 

"They just embody such a positive energy; they're youthful, confident, they are who they are," said Sey. "Jaden in particular is very outspoken about environmental issues, something we're also passionate about. The two of them, with our brand together are a perfect match, especially as we pivot our attention to Gen Z and attracting young customers."

In the images, Bieber and Smith wear festival-appropriate denim cutoffs, trucker jackets, tees and short-sleeve button-downs; but as some say sweats are overtaking denim as Americans' garment of choice, Levi's says it's more focused on spreading positivity than selling a specific product. The brand's other major marketing initiative right now is 5:01® Live, an Instagram Live concert series featuring major artists like Smith, Taco and Questlove — another instance of it reallocating resources that would have otherwise gone towards festival season, while also supporting the artists and entertaining fans who can't gather right now. (Speaking of Instagram Live, Levi's will also be going live with Bieber and Smith themselves at 4:00 PST Monday.)

"We're in the same same position as other brands and businesses: Our focus is really on giving people a little bit of optimism and uplift in their day and for us music is the way we did that," said Sey. "We're focused on that more than any traditional campaign, or hard sell on product. These are incredibly difficult times and we want to give people a little bit of light every day."

See more images from the campaign in the gallery below.

View the 14 images of this gallery on the original article

Never miss the latest fashion industry news. Sign up for the Fashionista daily newsletter.