Owning It, Southern Style
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Owning It, Southern Style

By Yash Egami on Oct 10, 2013

Sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, whether it's practicing karate while getting highlights in a hair salon, busting out dance moves that you really shouldn’t, or walking the beach in a speedo and hirsuit tan. It’s all about attitude, which is the message behind whiskey brand Southern Comfort’s latest campaign.
 
The series of long-form spots, including last year’s One Show merit winner “Beach,” and the most recent ones “Dance” and “Karate,” are like a well-mixed cocktail: amusing and smart with a shot of the eccentric. We spoke to executive creative directors Scott Vitrone and Ian Reichenthal at Wieden+Kennedy New York about the campaign and what it all means.
 
The latest Whatever's Comfortable spots are really out there. How do you even pitch an idea like "Karate" to Southern Comfort? Did you get a lot of confused looks?
 
SCOTT: We did a lot of really good strategic work up front and spent quite a bit of time with them defining what we wanted to achieve and the attitude of the brand. Once we did that, there weren’t a lot of looks like we’re crazy, because in a way, they were a part of developing it. So when it came time to write creatively, they were like, “Oh yeah, that kinda makes sense,” with everything we had been talking about prior.  

Their business was in such a place where they were ready to take a risk—they knew they had to do something different from what they had been doing in the past. They were really open and honest from the beginning about all of that, and they were ready to challenge themselves and were along for the ride.
 
IAN: This campaign idea, “Whatever’s Comfortable,” needs examples showing all of these different kinds of people who are comfortable with themselves. It needs those kinds of examples to work, and everybody involved including the client sees that.
 
It comes back to the product at the end of the day. Southern Comfort’s messaging is kind of the opposite of what most spirits advertising does, which is to promote some very aspirational version of who the drinker is or how you’re supposed to drink it. This campaign flies in the face of a lot of that. It’s still aspirational but in an attitude way, not in a enjoying-my-drink-on-my-yacht kind of way.
 
The spots look like they're inspired by indie filmmakers like Wes Anderson.
 
SCOTT: To be completely honest we never set out to emulate an independent look or a particular director. I think all of the conversations were about having this attitude come through in the film and letting the film have a distinct personality like the characters. I remember looking at the first shoot when we shot the guy on the beach, Tim Godsall pulled a lot of photography, but we really never talked about specific feature directors that were doing something interesting.
 
IAN: Most of the conversations were about who this character is and how he behaves, and where we were putting him came second. Like “Dance” is in a no environment environment, and to us that doesn’t feel quite as indie film to us.
 
SCOTT: I think you’re taking it in that way because the pieces are so stripped down, it makes it feel kind of like an indie film. They’re produced very well, but they’re not glossy and the locations are very every day. Obviously the casting is not like the actors you see in the spirits category. In a lot of advertising you don’t get a lot of characters like that, you see a lot of beautiful people.
 
Why do all of the main characters have mustaches?
 
IAN: We were just talking about that, I don’t think we realized they all had mustaches, it was not intentional. It was more like we liked those particular guys, but now that you mention it, we should keep that going.
 
SCOTT: You don’t want to do stunt casting where you try to find the weirdest person you can find, because that would be a disaster. What we really look for is someone who has this magnetic presence and people who have that X Factor, that kind of thing where there’s something about the way they carry themselves or an unspoken attitude. They just have this thing that you know it when you see it. We try to look beyond the mustache, that’s why we honestly didn’t even realize there are so many mustaches floating around.
 
Not a single word of dialogue. What made you guys go this route?
 
IAN: I think there are some things about that that we really like, because the music really drives these spots so much. But I think within the campaign of “Whatever’s Comfortable,” there’s lots of different versions of people who are comfortable with themselves, and I can definitely envision something in this campaign where someone would have dialogue.
 
SCOTT: We didn’t set out and say part of this campaign is no dialogue, there’s no rule. It just happened with the first one and we liked the result, and then we just carried on with it.
 
I do think it was a good way to establish the idea because the whole thing is about an attitude, and I think when you’re trying to articulate that attitude, it’s that classic thing where you can go around telling it, but you kinda just have to be it which is much more powerful. You see it happening and you support it with music and visuals. If we had the characters speak and have them try to convince you that they’re comfortable through dialogue, I don’t think the result would have been very good. They would have been telling you as opposed to you going along on their journey.
 

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