You Don't Have to be Jewish...

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Unique Moment in American History
A small Jewish bakery by the name of Levy’s ran a series of ads in the 60s and 70s–a slice of Americana well before my time. The ads are interesting because they occupy a unique moment in American history, as one of the first ethnically sensitive pieces of public advertising that celebrated diversity. The ads took a niche brand which catered to a single population, and looked outwards to the broader cultural milieu.

I didn’t have to be Jewish to love this campaign
The ads are well composed and visually striking: sparse white background with a high quality colour photo of someone enjoying a sandwich made with Levy’s rye. But what takes these ads from the realm of slick to memorable is the fact that the photos are culturally diverse: African-Americans, policemen, Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans etc. etc. This at a time in American history when most ethnic groups were focusing on themselves rather than others.

Authentic Rye?
Levy’s was started in 1888 by Henry Levy, who had migrated from Russia to the United States. He began his bakery making both rye and pumpernickel, according to an old NY Times article. Having never had Levy’s rye, I was curious as to what reviewers meant by “authentic European rye.” A quick Google search for the ingredient label revealed that at least in it’s contemporary form, it is light rye (the first ingredient is enriched wheat flour), of the sort you would probably find at a deli in New York. Not exactly a “European rye,” but given that the company was bought out by Arnold’s Bakery in 1979, (which in turn was absorbed by Bimbo Bakeries USA some time after that) it is difficult to know how close to the original formula the current version of Levy’s is without spending more time than I’m willing to give to this post. It’s also possible that Henry Levy modified his recipe to suit the North American palette, but I digress.

The point of this post is not to mount my rye purist soapbox. What is more striking - and what has ended up being more memorable - is the wit and power of the campaign. The ad-man George Lois was so struck by it, he even included it in his cheeky self-aggrandizing book Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!).

All because of a humble loaf of bread.

Joel StreckerComment