As part of Ad Age's latest annual Awards Report tabulating the most creatively celebrated companies and personalities of the year, we asked winning marketers and agencies about their campaigns.
Brown-Forman's "Whatever's Comfortable" for Southern Comfort was the ninth-most decorated ad campaign in our Awards Report, which tallies results from the industry's most respected global shows. The effort returned some attitude to a brand in need of a sales boost. We asked Mark Bacon, Southern Comfort's managing director, how much the campaign pushed him out of his comfort zone.
What kind of fortitude does it take to back a risky marketing plan?
Early on our partnership with [Wieden & Kennedy], I'll never forget they told me 'Hopefully you guys will be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.' And I never forgot that. So we were aligned that we really wanted to do something different. And that alignment made me comfortable with it because we just established up front what we were strategically doing.
How do you get buy in from higher ups to pursue an unorthodox marketing approach?
It's like in any good relationship, I think communication is the key. We were strategically aligned with them throughout the process. I just didn't walk in one day and show them a 60-second reel of a gentlemen walking down the beach in all his glory. When you passionately believe in something you should trust it and go with it. I think that passion may have overcome some of the questions that could have arisen from senior leaders.
Was there a backstory to how it came together?
Part of the idea really came out of the original pitch that Wieden had provided us. We were aligned early in that we were re-establishing what the brand stood for and that we really needed to get this done through an attitude over a long-term strategic communication. It just wasn't 'Boy, we are looking for this one cool ad to produce.'
Do you have advice on how to push the creative envelope but also get results?
I never take our eye off of what we are in the business for, [which] is building long-term equity and sales of the brand. I would not forgo our expected business results and where we want to go with the brand just to do something unconventional.