Ok so this is old news now, but there is still a lot to learn from the controversy surrounding Levi Strauss & Co. and their decision to use AI models to increase diversity in the marketing of their products.

Levis partnered with Lalaland.ai, a Dutch AI company that seeks to create “AI based synthetic, full-body virtual supermodels is aimed to replace the traditional human models to reduce cost to vendors and to increase diversity in product representation” (That’s from Lalaland’s wikipedia page).

And Levis said this:

“The Lalaland.ai partnership may deliver some business efficiencies that provide consumers with a better sense of what a given product looks like but should not have been conflated with the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion commitment or strategy.”


So there are a few things that possibly happened here –

1) The execution of their marketing strategy using Lalaland was never discussed with their DE&I team. A team which they most definitely do have, and I would hope would have raised the obvious challenge their strategy would face. They effectively threw that team to the wolves. (And I couldn’t find a single mention of this matter on the LI feed of senior EDI people at Levis)

2) Maybe Levis didn’t understand (or care?) that their place as a global organisation but with the majority of their sales in the US and UK, the scrutiny this decision would come under would be immense.

3) Maybe Levis thought that by using a business that has a black co-founder, it might protect them from backlash, and that they could use that fact for clout. However, the ai company is a Dutch-owned one. And the conversation about EDI in the US is VERY different to the conversation about EDI in mainland European countries. The Lalaland “About” page says all the right things – but the implications of their work aren’t under any doubt. It means less work for real people. Real life models, make-up artists, photographers… who could do the work. (Also check out their pricing page – for a company like Levis the cost is total peanuts, so of course they’d rather do this than pay real people.) Maybe Lalaland haven’t received as much push-back in Europe. But the American push-back was always going to happen.

Just like with our verdict on Nike a few weeks ago, Levis can absorb this sort of PR nightmare.

But most people who are likely to read this post: your company cannot.

EDI Verdict:

Do NOT recommend

And if you must, then get some advice first from someone other than an eager marketing person. There are too many layers to this for it to just be a marketing decision.


See here for more info: https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/ai-models-levis-controversy-backlash-rcna77280