Photography: Cutty Sark

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Everyone knows scotch is a tough sell nowadays. Actually, it's been a tough sell for quite some time. "The category has been in decline for the past 20 years," notes Chad Farmer, ECD at Lambesis in Del Mar, Calif. But Lambesis has a knack for hip, photography-driven print campaigns that get noticed - like the excellent long-running work for Skyy vodka, shot by Moshe Brakha - and Cutty Sark, another Skyy Spirits client, was a challenge the shop met boldly, back in 2000, with a heavy dose of Babe Factor. "Cutty needed to reposition itself for a younger target audience," explains Farmer. "The client didn't want to walk away from the nautical connection; the brand's been around for centuries. But we had to make it relevant for a blue-collar, neighborhood-bar type of guy. These regular guys have some knuckle-dragging, primal things that they like." Uh, girls? "Yeah, but we weren't going to do just girls, which beer companies have done for years. All our research boiled down to something simple and straightforward - we needed to modernize the idea of the boat." Hence, girls on the boat. Like, duh. But it's all in the subtleties of the presentation. "It's iconic," says Farmer. "It has the authenticity of the classic pinup, but with something more. We shot everything with a sort of caramel coloring to make it look more period and give it the flavoring of scotch."

Why Matthew Rolston, who shot six ads in 2000 and another five in 2001? "He brought the class and glamour that's associated with his usual fashion and beauty work." On the one hand, the campaign is "designed for guys to like it enough that they would work it into their lifestyle; and it's graphic enough for neighborhood bars, pool halls and guys' locker rooms to put it up as signage." On the other hand, "the photography and the styling are so high-quality and classy that they're intended to not be offensive to women - unlike so much cheesecake photography." As Farmer also points out, "It's politically acceptable again for men to be men, in the age of The Man Show and Maxim, but we didn't want a modern Maxim look for the girls - we wanted to nod to the era when quality and authenticity for brands was a big deal." Nevertheless, "these are girls for guys, not for fashion. They're not supermodels, but they're certainly not sluts. They're Playmates, football cheerleaders . . . one actually was a hostess on The Price is Right."

The price is indeed right on the whole campaign, which is integrated with a music tour and a website that offers plenty of background on the models. "Our initial goal was to stem the decline, and we did that - the first year, sales were flat. The second year saw a 2 percent increase in sales. This is considered tremendous. Most of the other scotch brands are still declining steadily."

Which brings us to two new models, four just-breaking executions and a change of photographer - none other than David LaChapelle. Round Two dropped the "Scots"; the new ads shrink the "Whisky" and add a pared-down, racy logo. "We're still keeping it graphic and simple, but the lighting and the girls are slightly more modern," Farmer says. "We evolved the brand name and redesigned the ship to present a more straightforward communication of the brand to the target audience."

Less retro, but still so het'ro, you might say. In the entire campaign, the suggestion of bondage, with all that rope lying around, is a nice touch too, right? "Well, you can read whatever you want into it," Farmer chuckles.

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