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Ad Of The Week With Oresti Patricios – Chris Barnard, Again And Again And Again

MarkLives.com – 8 May 2013

 

I have to admit to having mixed feelings about this ad… but I still have to give it credit for sheer production value.

 

We know advertising is meant to nudge consumer behaviour, to create an emotional response, to evoke a warm/fuzzy feeling towards a product or brand. We know that Advertising lives down the road from Propaganda, on Evangelical St (just one block over from Publicity Ave).

 

Perhaps one YouTube commenter put it best when he asked what the connection between the liberation of South Africa’s oppressed poor and this very expensive whisky was, bar the fact that it’s one of the favoured drinks of the new elite. Which is why we prefer ads that challenge, engage or just tickle our funny-bone… because we never like to admit that we can be manipulated by advertising, but – damn it – we do like to be entertained.

 

Which brings me to the latest Johnnie Walker spot, ‘Strider’. No, nothing to do with The Hobbit, it’s a continuation of the ‘Keep Walking’ theme, transposed into a South African historical context. Bartle Bogle Hegerty (BBH) of London was appointed as Johnnie Walker’s agency of record in 1999, after the whisky brand’s sales had been in decline for several years. BBH was tasked with coming up with an enduring campaign, along the lines of Heineken’s “Refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach” – which lasted 33 years. The brilliant response was the ‘Keep walking’ positioning and strategy. The campaign was adopted in 120 countries, and Johnnie Walker’s volume sales rose 94% in 9 years, during a time in which global whisky sales dropped by 8%.

 

The campaign recently morphed into the “Walking with Giants” theme: although it kept its classic “Keep walking” slogan, the campaign focussed more on inspirational people, such as Martin Scorsese, Jenson Button, Harvey Keitel, Ranulph Fiennes and Richard Branson.
But we all know localisation is everything, and different countries look towards their own heroes, so the campaign was regionalised. In Belgium it featured paraplegic triathlete Marc Herremans; retired Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie was another. The Caribbean market featured Vivian Richards and tied the campaign to responsible drinking messages, like “A true giant drives his team. Be a giant. Be the designated driver.”

 

chris barnardThe campaign has been expanded to social media, to accommodate the ‘new generation’ of whisky drinkers – connected, engaged, and savvy. The featurettes created for this had content that would be of interest: inspiring, interesting, challenging. More about a philosophy of taking action to achieve one’s dreams, than about whisky. But always with the ‘keep walking’ concept driving through every piece of media.

 

But let’s get back to the ‘Strider’ ad, conceptualised by King James, produced by Egg Films, directed by Kim Geldenhuys and lensed by Paul Gilpin, with special effects by Blackginger.

 

The 1-minute piece is shot in black-and-white, and it’s beautifully done. Almost perfect. Each scene is carefully crafted and masterfully lit and framed. The walking motif is well integrated: we see an archetypal man moving through various seminal historical South African scenarios, from Cape Town’s City Hall where Mandela made his first post-freedom speech, to the Rugby World Cup, to Vilakazi Street, amongst others.

 

In the ad, a man walks through these empty places, but as he does, the ‘ghosts of the past’ fade in and move around him. The ‘ghosts’ blur with movement, but every detail is carefully crafted: the Chris Barnard lookalike is eerily well-cast, and the ‘ghosts’ are all perfectly matched in terms of period clothing and hairstyles.

 

The black-and-white footage evokes newsreel footage; however every frame has been recreated, including the snaking lines of voters filmed from a helicopter, and the rugby players on the field. It had to be: motion-controlled camera rigs had to be used to match the movement of the man with the ‘ghosts’ in the same environment.

“Our future,” intones the voice-over, “will not be written by the great strides of yesterday, but by the ones we take today.”
OK, so far, so good. Visually, I love it – it’s a feast. And then there’s the emotive, uplifting voice-over and music. But overall, this commercial leaves me with mixed feelings. Yes, this would have been a great ad for Brand South Africa, but for a top-shelf whisky?
‘Strider’ sucked me in and had me until the end frame. I got goose bumps watching each faithfully recreated historical scene. I was with the walking man – I was the walking man. And then the slogan came up, modified to read ‘Keep walking South Africa,’ and I just felt a twinge of… a complicated emotion: regret/cynicism/resentment.

 

Perhaps one YouTube commenter put it best when he asked what the connection between the liberation of South Africa’s oppressed poor and this very expensive whisky was, bar the fact that it’s one of the favoured drinks of the new elite.

 

The next issue is that while visually brilliant, sadly the concept is not new. A few months ago, Standard Bank had their “Moving Forward” campaign (also known as the ‘Sh-boom’ ad). They used archive footage for the most part, both international and local, but once again featuring South African historical ‘milestones’ like voting in elections and yes, Chris Barnard.

 

Johnnie Walker made an attempt late last year to do something similar, but it suffered from a lack of clear conceptual thinking and production value, intercutting between the first flight at Kitty Hawk, walking in space, the first elections, and (once again) the first heart transplant… all musically woven in a montage that had not much more in common between the shots than the fact that they were all in black-and-white, and had a left-to-right movement.

 

‘Strider’ sucked me in and had me until the end frame. I got goose bumps watching each faithfully recreated historical scene. I was with the walking man – I was the walking man. And then the slogan came up, modified to read ‘Keep walking South Africa,’ and I just felt a twinge of… a complicated emotion: regret/cynicism/resentment.

 

Had I allowed myself to be manipulated by beautiful, evocative imagery, and my takeout was… what? Drink whisky?
I have to wonder why the South African agency hasn’t adopted the new, improved ‘Walk with Giants’ theme. Do we not have any inspiring ‘local heroes’? Not just sporting greats, but entrepreneurs and artists and mavericks abound in this crazy country? Maybe it is time for Johnnie Walker to look beyond the obvious and find our local heroes.

 

Watch:
The Making of the Ad:

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