The other morning, I pulled into the train station parking lot with 90 seconds to spare. I made it to the platform just as the doors were closing and took a seat next to some dude whose staid demeanor belied his taste in music (P-Funk, seeping well beyond the perimeter of his cupped headphones). At the transfer station, I knifed through the crowd and reached the escalator just as my connecting train pulled onto the track. But then, wouldn’t you know it, two people were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, blocking what should’ve been a straight glide down the steps. I slipped onto the train just in time and, after the inevitable tube congestion, made it into the big city, whereupon I strode down the sidewalk at a pace that left me with mild shin splints. Ultimately I reached my destination moist in bodyplaces that are usually dry, but otherwise ready and able to perform my appointed duties. What an adventure!
I share this Homerian epic of a saga of a travelogue with you to illustrate a point that shouldn’t need to be illustrated: your commute is not interesting, unless your name is Buzz Aldrin and you hitch a ride to the office on a rocket. Nobody cares if traffic was backed up for seven miles in the wake of an accident that happened eight hours ago (eight whole hours? I could clear a densely vegetated 200-acre plot in eight hours!). Nobody cares if your progress was impeded by a pack of tourists or a pack of turtles. Nobody cares. The commute is part of our compact with work: We endure it because we have to. If you can’t handle it, move.
And that’s the reason why brand marketers need to curb their fascination with young professionals on the go - specifically, comely urbanites zooming past double-parked trucks and yippy unleashed dogs on their well-appointed bicycles. The latest offender: Levi’s, which unveiled the first in its series of “Levi’s Commuter: The Ride” vignettes earlier this week. The second and third entries, set in London and Oakland, will debut later in the summer.
Designed as an online brand companion to the jeansmaker’s pop-up gathering spots - urban work oases in which guest DJ sets, tailors and on-demand bikewashers totally won’t distract the creative-industry drones Levi’s hopes to attract - the “Ride” clips challenge hardy explorer types to, like, take it all in, man. Just listen to the subject of the first clip, Brooklyn-based furniture designer Kyle Garner, as he acquaints us with the wonder and spectacle of his borough-hopping afternoons: “When I ride a bike, I like to experience the world around me… I move through the city so much that I feel like my soul is rooted here.” Yes, to the short list that includes Joyce/Dublin and Springsteen/Jersey, now too we can add Kyle/Brooklyn.
(Separately, what are the odds that any place on earth besides Brooklyn was considered for the first installment of this series? To frame it SAT-style: in the eyes of brand marketers, Brooklyn : conferrence of geographical coolness :: The Pixies : conferrence of musical coolness.)
Notice how I haven’t had a lot to say about the Levi’s brand just yet, and that’s because it’s barely there. Since the display of signage/logos is kept to a minimum, all we have to go on are the riders’ duds - which, while stylish enough, aren’t readily distinguishable from those of any other urban-tastemaker brand. That’s a problem, and one not easily solved. If “The Ride” lingered on labels, we’d dismiss it as transparent brand puffery. I like the program - those who make a living in creative businesses should do backflips that a big-name brand is lining up to make their acquaintance and offer resources - but there’s not enough connection between the video and the particular product line.
I can’t speak for the Oakland or London clips, as neither has been posted in its entirety. But based on the trailer for “The Ride,” they’re likely to serve up more of the same: a stylish, glib protagonist rhapsodizing about the ins-and-outs of urban self-conveyance like a first-year college kid relaying his mind-expanding initial encounters with Thoreau or beer. The world is a self-important enough place without bicycled hipsters mythologizing the process of pothole-avoidance; they’re not conveying secrets of the universe. Let’s make it a point not to encourage these people - or, by extension, the brands encouraging them.