Before the Blockbusters: Levi’s® Pixar Advertisements

Levi Strauss & Co.
June 27, 2018

Some of the sweetest summers are usually blessed with a Pixar insta-classic in theaters. This season, it’s Incredibles 2, Pixar’s 20th feature film. But before the studio became an animated movie powerhouse, it was tinkering in a variety of marketing spaces, including animated advertisements.

And that’s where Pixar and Levi’s® come together. I recently visited the studios, a short drive from Levi’s® Plaza across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, to get the lowdown on the Levi’s® and Dockers® ads that helped place Pixar on the movie map.

Another Bay Area-born business, Pixar was co-founded by Apple’s Steve Jobs— himself a fan of Levi’s® 501® jeans. The studio had roots in computer graphics with a connection to Lucasfilm before spinning off as its own corporation.

“Pixar’s commercials division was an important stepping stone to our being able to refine our production pipeline and for us to hire and train enough animators to someday make our first feature film,” Pixar’s Senior Historian Christine Freeman said. Among the ads that Pixar produced? Two Levi’s® shorts and one Dockers® piece.

A year before Toy Story, Pixar produced an advertisement for Levi’s® women’s jeans titled, Woman Getting What She Wants (1994). Produced for Levi’s® agency-for-hire Foote, Cone & Belding, the Levi’s® woman is a wooden artist’s mannequin wearing painted blue jeans in search of a perfect bouncy ball. It shares much of its DNA with the short that put Pixar on the map, 1986’s Luxo Jr, featuring the studio’s now mascot, a desk lamp and a bouncy ball.

The following year Pixar produced an animated Dockers® spot called Pinheads (1995), which was reminiscent of a 1930s-style graphic poster. It begins with a line of marching pants that is interrupted by a single pair who decides to break away from the pack. The piece was sparked by a creative idea shared by Foote, Cone & Belding.

Pixar took on another Levi’s® ad dubbed Shake It (1996) the next year. Created for our Levi’s® Jeans for Women campaign, the piece follows a hula girl nodder doll atop a car dashboard who comes to life once the driver leaves. She trades in her grass skirt for a pair of great fitting Levi’s® jeans.

“One fun fact,” shared Christine, “is that three crew members from Pixar’s commercials division who worked on the Levi’s ads went on to become producers of our feature films: Katherine Sarafian (Brave), Kori Rae (Monsters University) and Darla K. Anderson (A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Cars, Toy Story 3 and Coco).”

We’re happy to have been part of Pixar’s progress, which led to the success story it is today. Congrats!

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