December 21, 2015
I keep ruminating over this film for Johnnie Walker the way one might ponder a glass of scotch itself. It’s that good, completely deserving of Adweek’s hyperbolic praise. Maybe it’s even better than the Cannes winning “Keep Walking” film done a few years ago by advertising giant, BBH London -attached below. Pitting the two is perhaps insulting to both. Still, the fact that the newer piece is a spec film made by a pair of film students, Daniel Titz and Dorian Lebherz is truly remarkable. Everything about their film is done with grace and beauty. I hesitate to even call it a “spot.” This is a statement piece, for them and the brand. Clearly, these two young men have old souls. Brave ones, too. Blessedly unaffected by the myriad politics of Adland, they merely did the right thing. Oh, were that it were!
Scotch whiskey has always been known as a thinking man’s drink. It has depth and character best appreciated by sipping. This differentiates the liquor from most other spirits. Unfortunately, this difference is seldom romanced by the advertising industry. Instead, we get endless variations of people having a good time. While in some portrayals the partying around whiskey may be more uptown it’s still partying. Advertisers are hell bent against exploring deeper truths about these brands for fear of coming off as old fashioned, melancholy or maudlin. Drinking alone was and is considered verboten for 99% of all spirits’ advertising. Likewise, men drinking without women (or vice versa) is almost as taboo. And so on. In Adland, solitude means loneliness and depression. God forbid a gentleman has a neat drink at twilight. Next, he’ll be reaching for a gun!
I know of what I speak. As a creative at Leo Burnett, I worked on Johnnie Walker Black Label and Red Label. I was thrilled to have written and sold the campaign, “Welcome to Civilization.” But Lord, what an uphill battle. Alex Bogusky considered it the best thing in my portfolio. Probably because it went deeper. Though not as deep as what we have here.
In this film, two young men –brothers- return their father’s ashes to the sea. In the process of their journey, they share a glass and toast the departed. By no means are they whooping it up. But they’re not crying or miserable either. They are celebrating a good life and yes, a good death.
The kiss of death? Hardly. Even if its topic is an ending, there is something deeply life affirming about this story. These young men are graceful and true men, doing something wonderful. And in doing so aren’t they just extensions of their father – a man who obviously taught them well?
This is the very best thing a spirit can be a part of. Not the dumbass partying of frat boys looking for a good time but a reflection and celebration of a life well lived. It’s easy to blame brand managers and the like for insisting on “happy” and “fun.” But I actually think we are all culpable. Quiet moments, especially the quieting of life, are topics we constantly push aside, mostly out of fear. Advertising yields to this fear like butter to a knife.
But this “commercial” gamely looks right at death and in turn reaffirms life. Finally, I should add that though the script is lyrical and stunning, it is also hard working copy, seamlessly integrating the brand’s longtime theme, “Keep Walking” in a way that elevates it like never before.
“What’s your wild rabbit?” is the enigmatic question posed in Hennessy’ ad campaign from revered agency Droga5. I’ve seen these ads for some time now on marquee billboards, in national magazines, even as films. And while I admire agency and client for going all-in with a high concept (clients typically insist on showing drinkers drinking) I don’t get it. Not really.
Yes, of course, on a poetic level I know what the copy is saying: that the “wild rabbit” is a metaphor for your passion. And, because liquor ads are never wrong about these things, we’re supposed to find ours. Masculine icons like filmmaker Martin Scorsese (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver) and fighter Manny Pacquiao reveal what their wild rabbits are. In some ads the body copy overtly describes what the “wild rabbit” is: “It’s the voice that keeps you up at night…lurking in the corner.”
Yikes! Given all that lurking who wouldn’t need a drink?
Joking aside, I cannot salute this creative flag. (I want to. For its chutzpa alone.) Yet for me this is a well-hit ball that just goes foul.
Chasing rabbits seems like pipe dreaming. It evokes the notion of big plans gone to seed. Of men sitting in dark corners getting hammered and talking about tomorrow. But tomorrow never comes, does it? Just despair. That’s what I get when I take in these melancholy photographs and the dark prose. Are we not taught to avoid going down rabbit holes?
In the famous movie Harvey, Jimmy Stewart plays an alcoholic with an imaginary rabbit for a friend. He’s found his wild rabbit and it leads to the booby hatch. Some years later Grace Slick warned us about chasing rabbits in her iconic song White Rabbit about a bad acid trip. In the context of booze advertising, don’t rabbits seem wildly inappropriate? In addition, every time I hear the phrase “wild rabbit” I think of Wild Turkey bourbon. That can’t be good for business.
Maybe I’m missing something. After all, Droga5 seldom botches. When I was researching this campaign I found a nifty piece on a blog called Breaking Copy.The author is gung-ho about the campaign but I don’t buy his analysis. He writes the campaign “feels familiar, tapping into a shared cultural memory of Alice In Wonderland and the woodlands of Old Europe. It’s also a little bit sexy — after all, what are rabbits known for?”
The blogger mentions two other well-known references –which are fair. The first being Alice in Wonderland. It’s been a long while since I read the fable but, to my memory, Alice gets into a world of trouble chasing her wild rabbit. I believe the negative phrase “going down a rabbit hole” stems from her massive tribulations down there. Still, Wonderland is ultimately a magical place where creativity, imagination and personal freedoms are celebrated –perhaps to a fault. In any event, I’m willing to concede getting stoned on cognac can be a wonderful experience. Was Droga5 trying to tap into that? As in Lewis Carroll’s story maybe the indirect homage to inebriation is intentional. After all, liquor ads cannot go there directly (that’s why they are so hard to do). But then why the prizefighters and movie directors, this idea of “bringing something into the world?” It’s muddy.
His second “a little bit sexy” reference relates to bunny rabbits’ affinity for reproduction. I suppose on one level getting drunk and chasing “tail” is akin to “breeding like rabbits” but I’m very certain this has nothing to do with Hennessy’s message, even on a subliminal level. What do you think?
The blogger ends his discussion by stating the campaign’s intent can be summed up in six words: “Getting white people to drink Hennessy.” He actually may be on to something, albeit possibly racist: that white folks will appreciate the brand’s enigmatic approach more than black people. However, this takes me back to my original concerns about the campaign. Namely that rabbit holes, imaginary drinking pals and the Jefferson Airplane paint pictures most Anglo Saxons would find upsetting. They may be reasons to drink Hennessy but they strike me as the wrong ones.
Hard liquor has found it’s way into the mainstream of commercial advertising. Granted, it’s been hauled up through the back door, via You Tube and social media, where they don’t check ID’s. But bourbon, whiskey and tequila have found their way onto film. Like these films or not (and I mostly don’t), they are becoming ubiquitous.
Fancier brands like Kettle One are already on TV. “Gentlemen, this is Vodka.” We also have this semi-famous dude making fun of commercials in a commercial for 1800 tequila.
Johnny Walker made a lovely opus out of their Keep Walking campaign, by far the best of the lot. And there are others with still more coming.
for better or worse, the prohibition is over.
Not so very long ago, this would have been unthinkable. Broadcast was the providence of light beer and mediocre wine and it was heavily regulated. Among other things, you could never, ever show a man actually drinking. You still can’t, which I find strangely ridiculous. Even the barrage of new films pimping rot-gut honor this antiquated code. A sexy babe pours Hornitos all over the place to seduce her neighbor but none of it in his or her mouth. It’s left to the imagination, like soft core pornography: everything but the “proof shot!” And yes, the pun is intended.
Though I haven’t had a sip of anything harder than Red Bull in nearly ten years, I’m no prude. I think it aces that hard spirits are making commercials. More work for us! I just wish the commercials weren’t so deushy. I would love to see a tequila commercial evoking its rich history and magical powers. Its voodoo if you will. Horny, tough guys get old. Fast.