Comfortably Fun

August 13, 2012 / Signed/Unsigned

By Alex Reeves

Southern Comfort’s Beach ad is cool. But why?

A middle-aged man with a considerable paunch strolls down a golden beach wearing nothing but a pair of tortoiseshell spectacles, some burgundy speedos and what look like navy blue leather loafers. Beads of sweat make trails down his hairy belly. Is reading this making you want to buy a bottle of Southern Comfort?

We would imagine not. But watch the film, directed by Biscuit’s Tim Godsall, and you might feel differently. On paper, it’s a bad idea, but it manages to be instantly likeable. How is this so? Maybe the Internet holds the clues.

In search of answers we turned to the politically incorrect, lecherous, faceless rabble known as YouTube commenters – specifically those who commented on the ad posted in Southern Comfort’s channel. We were struck by unprecedented levels of wisdom, exhibited in comments such as “Alpha Male - BAUWSSS!” Insightful.

Product: Southern Comfort
Title: Whatever's Comfortable
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Tim Godsall
Production Company Producer: Holly Vega
Ad Agency: Weiden + Kennedy New York
Creative Directors: Scott Vitrone, Ian Reichenthal
Agency Producer: Alison Hill
Editing Company: Mackenzie Cutler
Editor: Gaviv Cutler
Music Company: Good Ear Music Supervision
Sound Company: Heard City
Post Production House: Mackenzie Cutler
Post Producer: Sasha Hirschfeld

The overwhelming majority of comments were positive - the kind of outpourings of joy that very rarely surround advertising. Not only do they prove the ad is improving the public’s opinion of the brand, but many commenters talked about actually buying a bottle of the stuff.

“This commercial is Awesome De Awesome,” read one comment. “Went out and bought some Southern Comfort JUST because of it!” Another said “within the first 5 seconds I decided to buy whatever was being sold.” There’s a beautiful simplicity here: saw an ad, bought the product. There are two explanations for this. It could be that people like this YouTuber are mindless drones – the kind of slaves to marketing that left-wing political bloggers love to moan about – or it might be that this commercial is so good that it turns normal, intelligent people into brand fanatics.

Southern Comfort faced a set of well-established conventions from the outset. There’s a default setting for booze ads and it’s overused. There are only so many unrealistic parties, smug models and intimidating beauties people can take. This moustachioed man’s man is breaking the mould and people like it.

One commenter, for example, gave “props to the Marketing Director from SoCo for taking the risk on a great spot. Nice work,” Maybe this YouTuber has stumbled on something important to the commercial’s success. People are so ad-literate these days they can see when brands are playing it safe. They switch off as soon as they’re confronted by clichés.

Of course, whatever you think of those fantastical party commercials, they are at least fast-paced, and appeal to the glamour and excitement that they hope alcoholic drinks will bring to their tedious lives. This is why brands churn out the same message repeatedly. “Well that was boring,” one anonymous critic says. Evidently this YouTuber would rather the drink transforms him into a stylish party animal in the world’s coolest club than a confident middle-aged man walking along a golden beach.

This is one of the risks Southern Comfort and Wieden+Kennedy have taken in their first work together. In the face of alcohol ads depicting bright young things endlessly revelling, they’ve gone for a more relaxed approach, taking the tempo down to a peaceful stroll that perfectly matches the campaign’s tagline – “Whatever’s Comfortable.”

Incidentally, this is something else the commercial’s got going for it. The tagline is economical – two words are all the copywriting needed – and with the perfect casting and directing the message is clear. As one commenter points out, there are “No cheesy catch phrases with this alcohol frontman – just pure style.”

Considering the guy’s unique approach to beachwear, we assume this idea of style is more about his demeanour than his appearance. It’s the way he walks, the way he steps over people who get in his way and the way he dips his shoulder to the beach beauties as he passes. His lovable character made audiences wish they were this hero, imagining themselves in our hero’s inappropriate shoes. “In my mind this is me right now,” said one YouTuber. “And honestly, I’m sure I would look just as ridiculous as this guy, but he still looks just as happy and content as anyone could ever be.”

It all comes down to empathy. It’s much easier for us to identify with this podgy Gene Hackman lookalike than with Smarmy McCheekbones, who stars in every other continental lager commercial, guffawing with his glamorous “friends”.

And if we don’t want to be Captain Comfortable, then we definitely look up to him. The worryingly-titled PsychadelicSexDream quipped below the video “DAD!? Is that you? I miss you...” An absent father is no excuse for that username, but the commenter’s got a point. There is something truly admirable about this bespeedod wildcard.

So why do we admire this proud gentleman? From childhood we are repeatedly told to be ourselves by our teachers, parents and role-models, but advertising often teaches us the opposite, suggesting that buying this product will make you just as cool and happy as all the people in their ads. “Instead of trying to be all things to all people this guy personifies being so cool by not being a follower,” one commenter said.

This remark is so bang on message we might suspect the online critic works for Southern Comfort, if it weren’t for the pages upon pages expressing love for this dude for being his own man.

YouTube’s verdict is decisive: we love this Louisiana spirit’s new mascot, not despite his unpolished looks but because of them. This ad has somehow managed to pin down the ever-illusive concept of cool. It doesn’t look quite as we expected, but it feels just right.

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