Captain Morgan Spot Gets 'Responsibility' Message Just Right

Grey's Subversive Ads Show You Not Only How to Get Drunk but How to Behave -- Without the Hypocrisy

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Not saying we miss the old days, when Billy Dee Williams sold Colt 45 Malt Liquor as a proto-roofie, guaranteeing Colt "works every time" you're in the mood for date rape. It was repugnant and immoral, but at least you had to credit them for one thing:

They weren't Pecksniffian. They didn't put on any pretense. It was as straightforward an alcoholic-beverage pitch as you will ever see.

Compare that in-your-face approach to modern "drink responsibly" messages, in which brewers and distillers who depend on young drinkers to consume heavily must also periodically spend money to suggest "but not too heavily."

That, of course, is sound ethical advice, but also a bit on the disingenuous side. These messages surely emanate not from the booze-sellers' consciences, or from the bottom of their hearts, but from the pits of lawyers' and lobbyists' stomachs, where fear of litigation and regulation demands all sorts of public posturing.

But, man, it's expensive to devote, say, 5% of your ad budget to undo the other 95% -- especially since the responsibility messages are typically lame, working directly against the edgy/sexy/macho/cool image you've spent years and fortunes trying to cultivate. In a perfect world, your do-gooder ads would not only be forceful, but they'd utterly and unhypocritically coincide with your image and therefore complement, not neutralize, your swig-our-firewater appeals.

And who has found that perfect world?

The Captain.

Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, that is, a hitherto obscure brand from Diageo that has swashbuckled to prominence in the last decade, having somehow become the pirate half of the ubiquitous bar order Captain and Coke. That minor miracle having taken place, Grey, New York, positioned the brand as the choice of the bold and cheeky. Not reckless and combative, mind you, but maybe a little smart-assed. The slogan: "Got a little Captain in you?" -- meant to convey the witty and slightly subversive influence of liquid courage, accompanied always by the heroes of a given ad vignette striking a buccaneer pose.

The slogan first appeared for Captain Morgan Gold, a short-lived alco-pop favored by 17-year-olds who thought Mike's Hard Lemonade was just too 16-year-old. Six years later, those numbskulls have wised up a good bit, but still spend entire weekends in bars ordering Captain and Cokes. They're nice guys, mind you, but they're also the reason safe-drinking messages need to exist. Because when they leave for home, they're menaces.

The agency could have pulled out the usual sanctimonious lecture, or contrived a poignant and selfless vignette of friendship and solidarity. But Grey's solution is so much better. The heroes of Captain Morgan's how-to-behave-drunk spots are exactly as cheeky and subversive as the ones in the how-to-get-drunk ones. Last year, two charming, over-served rogues went into a pizzeria and ordered their pie for home delivery, using the delivery guy as their designated driver.

This year, some guy is sound asleep in his apartment when he gets a text from his lunkhead buddies at a bar. The MMS is of his friends posed with three hotties and the message "GIRLS! OREILLYS! NOW!" The guy jumps out of bed, gargles, deodorizes and rushes to O'Reilly's -- only to find a dead scene, a safe-sex poster featuring the identical hotties and his friends waiting for him to drive them safely home.

It's just so clever, and so uncharacteristically honest in one of advertising's most dubious genres. Note, too, that the mischievous boys always go home unaccompanied by babes. This yields a probably unintentional but equally refreshing subtext: Get a little too much Captain in you, and you fail every time.

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