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Wednesday, August 26, 1998 Published at 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK


Kevin prepares for his wheel of fortune

Kevin the hamster: More than 400 people complained

Kevin the hamster is alive and happily playing on his wheel - unaware that his screen 'death' last weekend has attracted a record number of complaints.

The Independent Television Commission has received over 400 complaints after an ad for Levi's jeans showed a seemingly lifeless Kevin being prodded with a pencil.

The ad has now received more complaints than any other in the ITC's seven-year history.

See what happens to Kevin
Angry parents said they were disgusted after children were reduced to tears by the commercial, which shows Kevin playing on his wheel but dying of boredom when the wheel was taken away.

The ad has been pulled from the screens - but a Levi Strauss spokesman denied the ad had been scrapped as a result of the protests.

He said: "The ad was only scheduled to run for the weekend."

The National Animal Welfare Trust spokesman Tony Readwin branded the advert "disgusting", adding: "It was obviously going to cause concern for a lot of people and get a lot of coverage."

[ image: Kevin in happier days]
Kevin in happier days
But there is good news for hamster fans - the dead hamster was, in fact, a body double.

Owner Trevor Smith said the real Kevin was alive and well - and has been inundated with offers of more star roles in adverts and TV programmes.

"I had to choose a stuffed dead hamster that looked like Kevin to take his place for the final scene. So it was not him at all," he said.

"But I knew this would happen. I can fully understand why children were upset and thought he was dead. I can assure you Kevin is alive and well and very loved."

Mr Smith, whose agency Animal Action supplies creatures for films, said he had advised Levi's to add a disclaimer at the end of the ad to reassure viewers Kevin was still alive.

He also warned children not to copy the advert and poke their pet hamsters with pencils as it is cruel to the animal.

[ image: Jeremy Clarkson: Denim fan]
Jeremy Clarkson: Denim fan
The ad marks a change in Levi's advertising policy as the company moves struggles to combat what pundits have called 'the Jeremy Clarkson effect' - young people not wanting to look like their parents.

The 38-year-old Top Gear presenter is seen as the prime example of a middle-aged jeans wearer.

Now the company is making its message more obscure to specifically target young people, and will run more bizarre spots during weekends throughout the rest of the year.

Viewers more willing to complain

The ITC's Suzanne Prance said the huge response to the ads showed a greater willingness on the part of the public to complain.

"Hardly anyone used to complain about ads until a few years ago, but people now are more aware in these days of citizens' charters of their rights to complain about things they don't like.

[ image:  ]
"But there's also been a change in the tactics of advertisers. Before they were conscious television reached a broad audience and catered for the whole audience.

"Now they're targeting specific markets and aiming just at them - and often those outside the target group can be offended."

The Levi's ad beats the previous record holder, an ad for the Swedish furniture retailer Ikea from earlier this year which showed a boss thinking about sacking staff to pay for new furniture.

Before that, last year's Lucozade campaign featuring adult comic characters, the Fat Slags, held the record for complaints.

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