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How Levi's Turned a Mascot Into an Icon

Words:

Edd Norval
May 14, 2018

It wasn't long ago when popular culture was dominated by a president or rapper but by a yellow fluffy toy. Flat Eric had his own fashion 'range', musical career and was a well-known media personality. From humble flea market beginnings, his talent was discovered by Quentin Dupieux, or as we'd know him - Mr. Oizo.

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Dupieux featured the puppet in a video that landed in the hands of advertising god John Hegarty - all the way back in 1998. A difficult pitch, as you can imagine. The concept for the original ad, two friends road tripping until they get pulled over and the cop opens their car boot up to find perfectly crisp Levi's Sta-Prest was sort of appealing - the kicker though, was that one of the guys on the trip was a bright yellow puppet.


At the time, Dupieux was a young house producer and Hegarty wanted him involved in his new vision for Levi's. It turned out to be the break that the young Frenchman was looking for. The original track he created for the video that he also directed was a short humble 20 second loop that eventually became a global hit single. When the advert launched, 'Flat Eric', was everywhere. People didn't just want more of the track, but more of the puppet and in turn - more Levi's.


What was intended to be a single campaign showed that it had staying power well beyond their greatest expectations. It's not a surprise coming from the mind of Hegarty. He had previously created some of the most iconic adverts of our times - perhaps none moreso than this though. The character became a mass-produced toy/ piece of merchandise, his fur appeared on the pocket of Levi's jeans and for a while he was everywhere - a real celebrity. One can only imagine what level that fame would have reached had he been around now, with social-media allowing trends to take-off in a day.

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His rise was quick, becoming a classic case of late 90s word-of-mouth 'cult'. His fall has been a lot more gradual, to the extent that he has popped up when least expected every so often over the last couple of decades, most notably in a music video with Pharrell Williams. At the time he became a bridge between fashion and popular culture, appealing as much to kids who thought he was a cooler version of the Muppets as to adults who saw it as a refreshing break from more traditional ways of advertising and consuming fashion.


There are rumoured to be some unseen adverts of him online and other video's of him dancing around in places you wouldn't expect. Just like all celebrities - these things tend to remain well kept secrets. Eric is a private guy, only appearing in two magazines and in them he said about fame, "There's an old saying in the West, 'If you flick a dime up into the air, pull out your six shooter, fire and you hit it, don't try again'".


Whilst the enigmatic phrase isn't entirely clear, it seems that he doesn't want to overrun his time in the spotlight, as so many other celebrities manage to do. He knows a good thing and is happy with that. If only others would follow his lead.


So, long live old Eric, and who knows, maybe we haven't seen the last of him yet. There are always rumours and of course, always fans eagerly awaiting his return.

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