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Island's Edge Shares Bitter Stories with Better Beer

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Publicis Dublin’s Ger Roe on taking creative risks, developing a unique personality for the brand and coming up with an authentic, Irish campaign

Island's Edge Shares Bitter Stories with Better Beer


Marketing a new stout, especially in an already competitive category, can be intimidating for many. And to go against one of the most well-established brands in the world is by no means an easy task. But to also, on top of it all, choose to stand out and use your difference to your advantage, is the most impressive of them all. And this is exactly what Island's Edge has done.

Collaborating with Publicis Dublin, Island's Edge released its latest spot, 'It’s better, less bitter,' a campaign that highlights and challenges the brand’s point of difference, its taste. In the words of Ger Roe, board Creative Director at Publicis Dublin, “Island's Edge is a less bitter tasting stout that performs right to the end of the glass”. With the aim of encouraging consumers to choose Island's Edge, the campaign focuses on delivering a clear product truth and a better understanding of the brand behind the product. 

The campaign plays off the word ‘bitter’ and shares the all too familiar stories of the bar attendants, a group of characters that you’d see in your local bar, opening up and sharing emotional experiences from their past that they have gotten over (to an extent). The variety of the Irish cast brings a level of authenticity to the spot that is relatable and translates positively to the public. Directed by David Shane, the spot brings the characters and their stories to life and celebrates all those who choose to leave bitterness behind and move on with their life, or try to at least.   

LBB’s Tamara Felemban sat down with Publicis Dublin’s Ger Roe to dive deeper and learn more about the campaign, its challenges and the incredible creatives behind it.  



LBB> You worked collaboratively with the Island's Edge team to come up with this campaign. What was your reaction to the initial brief for this spot? And what ideas and creative techniques immediately sprang to mind?


Ger> We had worked with the Island's Edge marketing team on some other pretty successful Heineken projects before. It’s an honest and open relationship. Mark Noble describes it as a bit of a marriage, we have the odd fight, but the love is always there. So far, it’s purely platonic. We have a huge respect for the client team because not only are they brilliant judges of creative, they are also deadly honest with you. If they feel something isn’t working, they will always come back and challenge us.

In terms of the brief, we looked at where the brand had started out and challenged its point of difference as a product. We were also really keen to develop a unique personality for the brand. Technique wise, we employ a pretty agile way of working and we have a brilliant strategic team in Publicis who work really closely with creative. So our style is to work much closer together rather than pass the baton on. 


LBB> In an already competitive category, marketing a new stout is no easy task. How did you go about making Island's Edge stand out in this project? What were your main priorities? 


Ger> Look it’s a David versus Goliath story, but if you’re not salivating at the prospect of trying to cut through in the category of one of the world’s biggest brands, I think you need to rethink your career. Being deadly honest, we’re pretty confident in our own ability to hit the ground running and as I said, our clients are superb. Our attitude was, “yep, why not? Let’s do it!”

Island's Edge has a clear point of difference, it’s less bitter and it performs right to the end of the glass. We are targeting people who are after that kind of stout experience. When we started to look at the ‘ASK’, we knew we had the right team. The thing I kept talking about was how important it was to come across as an authentic Irish product. A lot of brands these days tend to feature fabricated consumers, and consumers aren’t stupid. They pick up on it and immediately reject the comms as a result. We wanted to avoid this at all costs.


LBB> The campaign introduces the brand in a humorous and optimistic style, celebrating individuals who move on from the bitterness in their lives. Why did you choose to go with that message? And what made comedy the best approach for this campaign?


Ger> Well I think once we landed on the ‘Better less bitter’ premise we knew it had the potential to be a really smart and funny jumping off point. The idea of capturing this collective admissions of people trying to move on and be better, while desperately trying to hide the hurt, had a great truth to it.

We’re all trying to be better (well, most of us) but if we’re being really honest, we are failing a lot of the time. I love that people can relate to that honesty. I also believe most people love to laugh at themselves and see bits of themselves in other people. Our piece is pretty self-deprecating and that is the reason it makes our piece extremely authentic. Not many brands have the confidence to do that. This idea is not a safe angle for a client to buy. You see so much risk averse work these days, sceptical data saying a campaign worked while the audience either really dislikes it or worse, they’re bored stiff. Thankfully, the work is landing really well with those who have a good sense of humour or who think are less bitter. 


LBB> The copywriting is one of the elements that truly makes this spot stand out. What was the inspiration for this spot and what were some of the initial ideas you had? 


Ger> After we presented the campaign idea, I think we showed up with 10 to 12 different routes, all of them working off the new personality we wanted to create for the brand. We tend to be pretty hard on ourselves. It’s fair to say some of the work we presented made our clients a touch uncomfortable but they always ask us to push them further. We spent a long time talking around the routes with Mark, Jim, Ursula, and Dan. We ended up skinning our story a number of different ways, but we kept coming back to the idea of people ‘opening up about things that they had been bitter about in the past, but supposedly they were much better now.’

Inspiration wise, I guess it’s different for the three of us. One bit that I personally love, and we quoted to our directors in their brief, was the boat scene late at night from Spielberg’s ‘JAWS’. It’s where the trio of Dreyfus, Shaw and Schneider start opening up over a few beers. They start sharing stories of shark encounters and showing off their respective scars. Robert Shaw starts off, “I was on the Indianapolis dropping off the Hiroshima bomb. Two torpedoes slammed into our hull. Fourteen hundred men went in the water”... So, he shows his scar from a Tiger shark. Dreyfus pipes in and says “I’ve got that beat” he follows with his own admission - another shark attack, another scar.  And around they go. (One moment in that scene which most people often miss is that after witnessing some pretty sizeable shark scars, Roy Schneider pulls up his top and takes a quick look at his little appendix scar and decides against bringing it up. It always cracks me up).

It was about opening up and sharing some emotional experiences from the past around people you might not know all that well. It was played so naturally and unforced in the film. It was intimate, emotional and funny all at the same time. When you watch that scene you feel like you are sitting amongst them. We wanted people to feel like they were in the pub and witnessing, laughing and almost shocked by some of these admissions.




LBB> Publicis Dublin chose to lean into a core product truth in this spot, which is that Island's Edge is a less bitter tasting stout. How did you go about playing on the word ‘bitter’ for this campaign? Was it important to showcase the brand’s personality in the copy?


Ger> The product truth was identified early in conversations with the master brewer PJ, but that is only half the story. We had a number of potential product truths on the table but wanted to make sure the one we chose was what our strategy team called ‘The defendable why’. Some drinkers of the competition can be a touch arrogant about their choice of stout and had no problem challenging our drinkers’ choice. So we wanted our consumers to have a definitive reason for their brand call and if questioned, not only was it a real and discerning reason to choose us in regards to taste but it also repositioned anyone opposing the choice as possibly being, well, a bit bitter themselves. I think the bigger point is that we believe there is room for another stout brand in Ireland – because let’s face it, life is pretty dull without variety!

Regarding the personality, again Irish people tend to be pretty good fun. I’m completely biased of course, but I would say we’re fecking great craic. We felt being the opposite to bitter was an area we could own. Most of the creative coming from our competitor of late tends to be somewhat lofty. The guys at Island's Edge take the business of brewing a fantastic stout seriously, but they want the business of advertising to be way more entertaining.


LBB> How did you come up with those 'bitter' scenarios - to what extent did you and the team draw from personal experience, and what 'bitter' scenarios didn't make the cut?


Ger> Writing wise, I work with two legends - Paul and Pete. Once we had a skeleton script, I think we ended up writing about 181 different lines for a massive cast that we couldn’t afford. We completely over-wrote the entire piece. We set up a sort of war room with heaps of different characters and lines all up on the wall. The entire brand team would pop in and laugh and comment on all the different lines/gags as we went.

I suppose we all got a little too close on WhatsApp. We added Niamh Skelly (our head of production) to the group and I think she really hated us by the end of it because of the amount of terrible gags being sent to each other literally on an hourly basis. This led to us presenting several versions of the script to the lads (our clients). All of our scripts were way too long and we had way too many gags. So as a tighter agency and client team, we ended up debating the best lines. As I said, the lads are really good judges of creative, so it never felt like they were trying to kill the good stuff. They were doing the opposite and throwing in a few gems of their own in.

When David Shane came on board, he kept saying, “This script is precious, I just need to protect you guys from yourselves.” We knew what he meant, we’ve all seen great work unravel. We were keen to keep improving it. As creatives, we have different styles. Myself and Pete would love to write extra beats on the shoot, whereas that stresses the hell out of Paul. He’s more a lock it down man. The mix of the three of us working together with David worked really well. Of course, they all might have a very different POV.

We ended up shooting for two long days and David was such a big fan of the script that he gave us an additional half a day on top of the two days. In terms of the ones that didn’t make the cut, we do have a 90, and three to four other 30s. Some of the shorter ones are some of my favourites.


LBB> The spot features actors who feel like a familiar bunch of characters that you’d see in your local bar. What was the casting process for this spot like? How important was it that the actors seem relatable to the public?


Ger> This is a great question because this film lives or dies on a great authentic cast. In order to get that talent, we needed to cast in both Dublin and London (a lot of strong acting talent go to work in London). I think we did three days of casting. We saw so many good people and some other people as well.


LBB> What was it about David Shane that made him the best person for the job?


Ger> We pulled out who we believed were the three best comedy directors to pitch on this. Normally you get the odd nice PFO, but everyone loved the script. Genuinely all treatments were superb. I guess one of the key reasons we chose David Shane is that he was as obsessed with the casting process and delivering brilliant performances as we were. He just wasn’t prepared to risk filming anything with a poor cast. I have to say, David has so much patience with talent. During the casting process he spent so long really digging down to see what each actor had to offer. We tried multiple parts with different actors.

Our first call with David lasted over two hours, myself and Pete had just finished presenting the full campaign idea to the entire inter agency team in the basement of a Dublin pub (sure, where else would we do it?) and thankfully it went down really well. We then went straight onto a zoom call. Normally those calls are awkward as hell but that one really stood out. We seemed to be all referencing the same types of humour and by the end of it we were pissing ourselves laughing, quoting ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ and 'Withnail and I’.

David takes nothing for granted. He continually pushes, but he does it gently. We also fell deeply in love with Nell, David’s producer. Life is too short to be surrounded by boring people. She is an absolute hoot.




LBB> In terms of the pacing and the comedic tone, it’s definitely got a deadpan feel and the pacing isn’t rushed and zany - what sort of conversations did you have around that in terms of performance and edit?


Ger> I’m a big fan of write it funny, play it straight. I hate big unless you are purposely going for a big performance from the outset, you know Anchorman style. (Which I love btw)

I suppose what I did learn in this project is that in order to make this really authentic piece of work, we needed our performances to match different kinds of Irish people. Some are quite unassuming, some are pretty vulnerable, some were genuinely over the bitterness, some just never will be and yes, some were a touch big for me. But David could see the entire gambit and he wanted the balance of performance across the cast. I was a bit worried about one or two performances but the beauty of a piece like this is some of the cast you’ll love and some you won’t.

People seem to love “the bald guy at the start” (Chris), I myself am follicly challenged, so you know. People also seem to love Pearse who delivers “Garry, Gerry”. I think you feel for him, he’s probably spent 10 years reminding people quietly that his name is Garry with everyone completely ignoring him. This was his moment to put his bitterness to bed and set everyone straight. What I love is it’s a small thing but to him it’s huge and still after laying it out in the open, some gobshite pipes up and calls him Gerry. You can see he wants to take a shovel to all of them, but he instead talks himself down all through a gritted smile.


LBB> What was the biggest hardest challenge you faced on this project - and how did you overcome it?


Ger> Our schedule was nuts, our first offline was rushed and let’s just say it was a bit too dark LOL. That was tough on David because we were trying to do the edit remotely and it’s shite when you don’t have time. So Wojciech suggested we stop messing about and fly over to London to work more closely with David and Adam. Look there is a saying; ‘clients get the work they deserve.’ Like I consider these clients friends but that doesn’t mean they let us off the hook. If they don’t like something you’ll know about it, but they move on just as fast. They are also in the trenches with you, it’s never an us and them situation.


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Publicis Dublin, Wed, 23 Nov 2022 15:58:00 GMT