Broadening audiences with beavers

The Woodsman Whisky campaign from Mr. President highlights the importance of doing things differently and the value of challenging the status quo

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


Earlier this year The Woodsman Whisky launched its first major TV campaign with the help of Mr. President. The campaign humorously brought to life the brand’s ethos of ‘doing’ with the help of a new brand mascot; the hard working beaver.

Unlike many traditional whisky campaigns, the spot challenges conventions by making use of the beaver brand mascot to inject life into the product and create a more engaging narrative for audiences.

The campaign hero film follows a group of common beavers in their natural habitat working together as a team to build. Beavering away, getting to work chopping down trees, carrying planks and hammering nails, audiences are able to see just how hard-working this pack of animals can be. As the working day comes to an end for the beavers, audiences can see a bottle of The Woodsman Whisky being shared around. The leader of the group raises a well-earned glass to the other beavers who are enjoying drinks and relaxing after the hard day's work.

The decision to challenge category conventions and do something different was championed by both brand and agency and has led to the campaign being heralded as ‘the world's best whisky ad’ by effectiveness measurement company, System1.

This shift was driven by both brand and agency. Julia Fish, Account Director at Mr. Presidentexplained: “The brief was all about awareness, we knew that we needed to do something really disruptive to get viewers' attention and stand out in the category.”

The brand ethos of The Woodsman Whisky focuses on being the whisky for ‘life’s doers’. An approach which meant the beavers were the perfect fit. Yet nonetheless, it took bravery from the brand to go against category norms to embrace the beavers and broaden audience reach.

Using the beavers was a brilliant way to broaden things and opened up the audience.

Linda Phillips, Global Senior Brand Manager Innovation and Incubation at Whyte & Mackay

“The whisky category in general is quite traditional and quite serious. People think you need to be a connoisseur or know about whisky to drink it. It [the campaign] was quite refreshing because straight away it got across you don't have to take the category too seriously. This is something everybody can drink and also have a bit of fun with” explained Linda Phillips, Global Senior Brand Manager Innovation & Incubation at Whyte & Mackay. She continued: “Using the beavers was a brilliant way to broaden things and opened up the audience.” 

The bravery to have fun 

Where a key success metric for the campaign was awareness, The Woodsman Whisky also had a large focus on increasing shopper penetration and the volume of consumers seeing the brand. While Phillips shared that there was some internal hesitancy initially around the idea of the beavers, ultimately the idea won out due to its unique appeal and fresh perspective.

“A lot of the brands in our portfolio have been around for a while and have long provenance but this brand is quite different so we had license to play around with it and create something new, unique and distinctive,” explained Phillips.

In a restricted category, you need to be so careful about what you say and how you say it.

Julia Fish, Account Director at Mr. President

The shift also taps into consumer desire for humour from brands in the midst of uncertainty. As Phillips explained the campaign was new, good-hearted and fun. She continues: “This is a time where we have the cost of living crisis, people are finding things hard, we are coming out of covid. It was quite refreshing to have something to work on that was fun, lighthearted and that could bring that into the category.”

In a time when consumers are facing hardships, a campaign centred around joy, escapism and fun can capture the imaginations of audiences and avoid ‘purpose fatigue’. 

Creativity in regulation 

Yet while embracing fun and joy may seem like a no-brainer, in a heavily-regulated category like alcohol executing a lighthearted concept in a way that both translates to audiences and adheres to regulations can be a challenge.

“In a restricted category, you need to be so careful about what you say and how you say it. This was on all of our minds throughout the whole process,” says Fish. “We needed to stay really close to the ASA and to Clearcast to ensure that as the idea developed, we would stay in keeping with their guidance. As we progressed through the process it became clear that it wasn't just one thing that would push it into a riskier space, it was a multitude of things that all worked together to build the overall picture,” she adds.

“There were lots of different levers that we could pull to make sure the overall picture was falling on the right side of the line.” she continued. The team laboured over each creative decision to ensure that it would contribute to an overall picture of compliance. The music mustn’t be too catchy, the voice-over had to be more gruff in tone and the colour grading dulled down so that it wasn’t too appealing for children.

There was a real fine line of ruffling up the beavers so they didn't look cute and also sometimes you might ruffle them up too much they look like they’ve had a bit too much to drink!

Linda Phillips, Global Senior Brand Manager Innovation & Incubation at Whyte & Mackay

For Phillips, who had worked on several alcohol campaigns before, the experience of applying guidelines to puppets was particularly unique. She explains:  “Although we had puppets in them we still had to adhere to a lot of the guidelines, they couldn't look as though they were binge drinking or being irresponsible, doing dangerous things.”

“When we first saw the storyboard it looked great that they were using saws and hammers, but when you put that layer of restriction over it, you can’t have irresponsible behaviour. There was a real fine line of ruffling up the beavers so they didn't look cute and also sometimes you might ruffle them up too much they look like they’ve had a bit too much to drink,” she adds,

"Yet what grew from that focus on regulatory framework was a sharp focus. Focus which manifested as a meticulous eye for detail meant that every element of the campaign struck exactly the right tone". 

Trust in teams 

Taking calculated risks has resulted in a campaign that resonates both with customers, consumers and stakeholders within Whyte & Mackay.

“We got feedback from two of the most senior buyers who sent emails directly saying that they loved it. In 20 years of working in alcohol, I haven’t seen an email directly from a client that commented on creative,” says Phillips.

The campaign landed well with customers too. It scored highly in research from Kantar Ad Now, which found it to score highly on enjoyment and predisposition to purchase.

Both brand and agency attest the success of the campaign to a healthy relationship and a willingness to create with absolute trust in each other.

Fish explains: “Because of the level of risk we needed to be fully open and honest about all the conversations we were having, everything we were doing to mitigate the risk. We were chatting pretty much every day going through the different correspondence we’d been having with the different regulatory bodies and kind of working out together what to do to best address their feedback.”

She adds: “Everybody enjoyed it and wanted it to be the best it could be. We understood that there was risk but it was a risk worth taking.”

The Woodsman Whisky campaign is a masterclass on the importance of thinking differently and challenging category norms to push the boundaries of creativity. By trusting one another, communicating openly and seeing the possibilities in regulation rather than restriction, the campaign is able to both spark joy and achieve commercial success and connection with multiple stakeholders.

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