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Brand Insight

Brand Insight: Dewar’s Gets Authentic

Taking whisky from Don Draper to Charles Bukowski

Brand Insight: Dewar’s Gets Authentic

Whisky advertising has long been the reserve of the urban businessman, surrounded by well-shined surfaces in a corner office or luxury penthouse. A grown-ups drink. But scotch brand Dewar’s is hoping to bring whisky marketing back to down to earth, with a campaign as hearty as the peat-infused drink. Live True kicked off with a manifesto film directed by Nacho Gayan and features a global collection of passionate men who couldn’t care less about traditional notions of success. Oh, and it features the words of hell-raising whisky-fan Charles Bukowski, with excerpts from ‘So, You Want to Be a Writer’. LBB’s Laura Swinton talks to Tom Swift, Dewar’s Global Brand Director, and Kirsten Haack, the Global Account Director at Barcelona-based agency Rosàs.

LBB>  How long have Dewar’s and Rosàs been collaborating?

TS> Rosàs has worked with Dewar’s for a long time. For the past ten years, principally with Dewar’s in Spain as they’re a Barcelona-based agency. But they’ve also done one or two broader campaigns for other international markets. Dewar’s began the process of a re-launch about 18 months ago, which is when, as a global team we began working with Rosàs in earnest. We launched a global pitch for comms development and broader communications strategy development on the brand which Rosàs won.

KH> Happily won! The whole process started 18 months ago and the account was formally assigned about a year ago, when we actually started working on concrete creative proposal.

LBB> The campaign feels very different for a whisky brand – neither slick and corporate nor twee and traditional. What were the goals in creative sense and strategic sense?

TS> The context to this is that Dewar’s is – and I would say this – one of the great Scotches. It’s one of the big names in whisky, one of the oldest blended scotches there is. It has an incredible history that needed to be told to a new generation. The philosophy of the brand makes it a great relevant story for today’s world. That was the big strategic objective. 

As we developed the thinking around the positioning, one of the biggest things that we noticed was how important authenticity and being true to yourself is to guys today. Whisky will always be about masculine identity, it will always be about success. But we found that for young guys today, the concept of success is quite different to how it was ten years ago. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as it is true to you, what you believe in, your values, your passions. What struck us was that this was a really rich territory for us as a brand as it was essentially the story of the Dewar family. They did what they believed in and they took scotch all over the world. They believed in themselves to start investing in their own distillery. There’s a real connection with the Dewar’s, which we summarise by bringing it together with ‘Real Scotch since 1846’. 

To us, whisky has been slightly lost in other communications in the last 10-15 years. There’s been a degree of artifice created around whisky which is not true to whisky.  We want to go back to its heritage and be true to that – that was the bigger context and that’s what led to a brief around being true to yourself.

LBB> That idea about success is interesting – whisky advertising has always had something of a Don Draper syndrome.

TS> It was about whisky being defined as the corner office that you’ll get when you’re successful; the big house and the big car. Yet that is not resonant today - in all markets. It was very important that we got to a global positioning and moved away from overt extravagant ostentatious displays of wealth to expressions of discernment. Various markets are at different stages in that journey but everyone is moving there. Certainly when you look at a market like Spain – where we began the campaign and which is our second biggest market – it’s a huge part of reality. But the US and other markets are heading that way too.

LBB> There is a wider social and economic context in which all that is happening. In Europe and especially Spain, it’s been a tough few years and it’s harder to relate to that slick, black-and-chrome aesthetic of the traditional 

TS> Exactly. And connected with that there has always been this idea of success being in the future. You’re never quite there. And when we talk to guys, one of the most fundamental points of this idea is the define success as being where they are right now. It’s how you maintain the success you’re enjoying at the age of 25 or 30 and making sure that that definition of success does not become diluted over time. It’s the fact that your life can be successful now; it’s not about looking 20 years hence when you can get into a golf club. It’s very much about living in the present and celebrating that. 

Whisky always used to talk down to people and say ‘when you’re a little bit older you can drink us, because we’re better than you’. That’s what’s different. That was never what whisky was about originally and I guess that’s what we’re trying to bring back.

LBB> From the perspective of Rosàs, when you heard Dewar’s’ ambition, what was your starting point to try and fulfil that?

KH> We started from the product itself. Everything that we’ve created or are creating is directly linked to the history of the product and brand. Inspiration was easy to find in Aberfeldy. There was the fact that the recipe hasn’t changed since its origin and there was the history of the Dewar’s brothers. It just makes sense for you to build a campaign on this magnificent foundation.

LBB> As to the campaign itself, the voice over on the spot is a reading of a Charles Bukowski poem. What was it about his words that made them so perfect and were there any risks about associating with such a hell-raiser?


TS> It’s an interesting point. For me it’s about the words. Bukowski is not the face of this campaign and we talked about this a lot. What amazed us was that Rosàs found a piece of writing that completely summed up the philosophy that we wanted to communicate. The message is that unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, don’t do it. It’s incredibly emotional. For us this is about an incredible piece of writing that completely sums up and resonates with the view of success today.

Now, it happens to be by Bukowski. We did a lot of work with his widow to make sure that we were doing it in a way that was right and sensitive. But that’s the sequence of the way we looked at it. It wasn’t ‘let’s find something by Bukowski’, it’s that Rosàs managed to find a piece of writing that summed up, better than any copywriter, what we wanted to get across. That’s why we’re not hiding from the fact that it’s Bukowski, but for me it’s about the power of the poem that we’re using. It’s about the words.

LBB> For the spot itself, you found people from all over the world with some very niche passions. How did you uncover them? 

KH>  We worked with our production company Agosto. First there was the process of deciding what kind of personality of people we wanted represented – there was definitely a brief there about the kind of people who would work well for this campaign. We then hired local journalists to do research and find these different people. We interviewed each one and found those people who were actually ‘living true’. For example, Sean from Sheffield is our stonemason and he feels very passionately about stone and dry walling. He’ll talk passionately about what he does even though midwinter in Sheffield is not necessarily the nicest place to have to work outside. And yet he feels an obligation to himself and his heritage. That was what we were looking for. The only way that the poem could come alive was if the people that were representing the words that were being spoken were actual people who were doing that?

LBB> As for director Nacho Gayan, what did he bring to the finished film?

KH> Nacho Gayan is famous for bringing that drama. He has the most beautiful eye. That’s definitely what he brought – he created these moments that genuinely give you goose bumps. 

LBB> How does the TV spot feed into the other aspects of the campaign?

TS>  The focus of the launch has largely been Spain and then we’re rolling it out to other Dewar’s markets around the world. Greece and Lebanon, which are two very important markets for us, are going to be launching shortly and we’re going to be doing a lot of work in India. 

Having grabbed people’s attention with the manifesto film we’re then creating a deeper relationship with them by taking them into the documentaries that we’ve created around the real characters in the manifesto film. We’re also developing a series of brand activities that bring our point of view to life even more. Again a lot of these will be digitally led but there will also be experiential events in our markets. We’ll be demonstrating what ‘Live True’ and ‘True Scotch’ are all about so we can get into more of a conversation with Dewar’s drinkers today.

LBB> To finish off, are there any moments or memories that have particularly resonated with you personally during the development of this campaign?

TS> It’s been great working with the Rosàs team, they’re incredibly passionate. When they began with the proposal not only did they want to shoot this manifesto film but shoot it with real people, no actors. What has been so exciting is that it’s personally incredibly rewarding in terms of the people we’ve met along the way. We’re all so proud of what we’ve created. 

As a team we’ve always said that  we wanted to make work that would affect people more deeply, even if it affected a smaller group of people. That was where we wanted to be, rather than doing something that would please everyone. We told a story that would be true to Dewar’s and make sure that we would never dilute it to the point that people would just shrug and find it a bit vanilla.

KH> I think the fact that we’ve met these people has been such an experience. The things that they say really strike you. Sitting down and talking to any of the personalities, your jaw just drops open.  You unpackage yourself while you’re having a conversation with them. On a very personal level for me it’s been a great opportunity to actually look at myself.  In a very real way. I might not choose the same lifestyle as Alex, David or Sean but it certainly made me look at some of the decisions I’ve made and the paths I’ve taken. That has been an awesome experience for me.

I’ve spoken to a couple of the creative teams who have had the chance to deepen their relationships with some of the people we’ve worked with. They’re still in touch with a lot of them. Sean, for example, is in touch with a copywriter we work with here – friendships have blossomed.

TS> Saint Motel, the band that appears in the campaign, and Sean the stonemason are going to be with us in Aberfeldy at the end of the month. Aberfeldy is the home of our distillery and we support the Aberfeldy festival each year, which is a small but great little music and arts festival. Saint Motel are coming over from LA to play there along with some of the musicians we work with in India and some great Scottish bands like King Creosote. As Kirsten says it’s been great – we’ve kept the relationships up and we’re going to keep doing work with these guys.  

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