Move over suave-suited man sipping your aged single malt at the hotel bar. There’s a beaver tryna’ get through, and he’s got a hot tub to build.
When London independent agency Mr. President created the first major TV campaign for contemporary blended Scotch brand The Woodsman Whisky, they decided to do something distinctive in a category full of tropes, whilst still delivering on a core message about how the whisky is made.
The campaign that came out of that thinking positions The Woodsman Whisky as a drink that is ‘well earned’ and celebrates the woodcraft at the heart of the product, matured using a mix of freshly-built oak casks and ex-Bourbon barrels double-scorched for extra depth.
To bring this to life, the agency settled on the perfect mascot for the brand – the hardest-working wood chopper in the forest - the common beaver. The ‘well earned’ concept is brought to life in every aspect of the campaign - right down to making the ad ‘properly’ with puppets, rather than CGI.
LBB’s Alex Reeves spoke to strategist Harriet Tavener to find out what went into building the campaign.
LBB> There are lots of tropes about whisky. This campaign doesn't lean into many of them! How did you land on that approach?
Harriet> The whisky category is littered with outdated stereotypes that we wanted no part of. We didn’t want to make an old school whisky ad, or one of these modern reactionary anti-stereotype ads. Instead, we took the down-to-earth brand intrinsics and gave them meaning. Unlike other brands, we leant away from suave and into rugged, away from finesse and into hand-built, away from perfection and into reality. This unique strategy in the category gave us an opportunity to stand out and do something bold, a “creative leap” some might say (...that was me, I said that, in the pitch).
LBB> What was the strategic insight that took you towards the ‘Well Earned’ concept?
Harriet> Between the surge of #GirlsWhoBuild https://www.tiktok.com/tag/girlswhobuild , the world's fascination with primitive technology videos, and outdoor/hiking gear fashion trends, we saw a growing interest in people getting out there, rolling up their sleeves and getting shit done.
Whether it’s successfully rubbing the batteries together to repower the TV remote, or laying down the final plate of sausages on the table off the BBQ, we wanted The Woodsman to be the whisky brand to celebrate the noble art of ‘doing’ and reward those that roll their sleeves up and ‘do’ with a “well earned” Woodsman. It burrows us nicely into that post-work drinking moment, but in a non-wanky way.
LBB> And how did that turn into a story about beavers?
Harriet> The beaver characters are down to the mad minds of our creatives - Dan Ball and Joe Stone. An enormous creative leap that made a whole load of sense for the brand. As ‘ecosystem engineers’, beavers are natural doers. They live surrounded by woodland in Scotland and they are sociable and friendly, just like our target audience.
This wasn’t just a creatively distinct direction, but also one that made so much strategic sense for the brand: a perfect opportunity for The Woodsman to launch a brand mascot and reap the benefits - including an increased emotional connection and memorability (two things that the brand has been grappling with for some time).
LBB> What were the biggest decisions along the way?
Harriet> To be totally honest, the biggest decision of the whole process was to go ahead and make the ad… Using animals to advertise alcohol is no walk in the park. We were treading such a fine line with Clearcast and the ASA to ensure that it met regulations. It took a great deal of consultancy led by our accounts team - Julia Fish and Lillie Price, and very nuanced changes throughout the full process - from scripts, during the shoot, and in post-production.
LBB> How did a story about beavers end up getting produced with physical puppets and not CGI?
Harriet> With a strategy grounded in the rewarding of good, honest work, it would be disingenuous of us not to reflect this in the making. It was important for us to employ doers, crafters and makers to help make the advert come to life: from the initial crafting of the puppets right through to the hands-on nature of making them beaver away.
LBB> What were the most memorable moments in the process of making this campaign, working with a model maker and puppeteer?
Harriet> During the process the model makers had to be really crafty to make sure the beavers’ arms were long and dexterous enough to handle the product. We needed their faces to be expressive, but most importantly we needed the puppets to be gnarly.
When the team met ‘Barry the Beaver’ for the first time during pre-production it was like meeting a celeb. Alex Berchert (the master puppeteer) is incredible - he’s a kinetic artist as well as a puppeteer - and his craft shines through on film. The beavers really do register as real-life beavers beavering away in their natural environment.
LBB> Anything else you'd like to add?
Harriet> Early results from System 1 testing have been incredibly encouraging: a 4.8 star rating - the highest in the world for any whisky ad! It’s such a cliche (and I feel lame saying it) but, if there’s any learning to be taken from this, it’s to be brave (eesh). It’s comfortable to play in a safe, sensible space - especially in such a highly regulated category - but creativity really does pay off.