Newsmaker: Colenso BBDO Auckland’s Max McKeon on the making of ‘I’m drinking it for you’, winner of the Film Grand Prix at Ad Stars
One of the creative highlights of the recent Ad Stars 2019 Festival in Busan, South Korea was this year’s Film Grand Prix winner. The hilarious “I’m drinking it for you” for BD Export beer, via Colenso BBDO New Zealand was a unanimous choice for Grand Prix. Campaign Brief sat down with Colenso creative director Max McKeon to find out more about the campaign.
Max McKeon (pictured below) joined Colenso BBDO Auckland as creative director in June last year after being lured to New Zealand out of his associate creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. McKeon was part of the Saatchi team that created the brilliant “it’s a Tide Ad” campaign which cleaned up at the 2018 Cannes Lions, including taking out a Titanium Lion and the Film Grand Prix.
“I’m drinking it for you” was launched to the New Zealand market on Valentine’s Day this year. It’s a full song and music video that shines the spotlight on Kiwi couples, turning the simple act of choosing a low carb beer into a gesture of romantic love. DB Export has a history of giving its drinkers license to have a beer; the world-recognised Brewtroleum and Beer Bottle Sand campaigns were based on the idea that enjoying a DB Export Gold could help save the entire world.
“I’m drinking it for you” breaks new ground by recognising male and female drinkers equally, by starring two of NZ’s brightest new singing talents Keshia and Tom, who recorded the single, and perform in the music video.
CB: Tell us about how “I’m drinking it for you” came about. What was the strategy? Was the brief to create a song?
McKeon: DB Export has a history of giving beer drinkers hyperbolic excuses to have a beer. The brand set up the act of drinking a beer as ‘saving the entire world’ via Brewtroleum and Beer Bottle Sand. So for Extra Low Carb, framing it as the beer you can drink for other people, as a selfless act of love, seemed just ridiculous enough to do the brand’s heritage justice.
The concept owes its beginnings to a great steer from Levi Slavin (CCO) and James Tucker (Strategy) to ditch the percentage-based functional advertising of the category and go for an deeper emotional benefit.
As for the song format, it was perfect for the love-centric concept and the need to seed our message a part of NZ culture rather than create traditional advertising.
CB: Who were the agency team involved in the campaign?
McKeon: The script was initially presented as a recorded song, one that was surprisingly close to the final product. This was due to the creative team Thom (Darlow) and Beth (O’Brian) who, not content with being brilliant at advertising alone, wrote, composed and recorded a version of the song to sell the concept. The tune was so memorable that it almost didn’t matter what it was saying. It’s just lucky they were nice enough to make sure it was a great thought as well.
CB: The casting is perfect. Tell us about the casting process.
McKeon: Tom and Keshia made this spot. The pipes on those two, along with their improv and talent as actors, brought so much to the track, the final film and larger campaign.
It was really important to us that the two leads in the song were relatable to our audience, and had an even gender split in terms of screen presence (a first for beer advertising in New Zealand), and represented the cultural diversity within NZ.
Casting these two and the other amazing supporting characters is a tribute to Damien Shatford (director), the team and the clients for breaking with predictable category norms to create something that people would notice and relate to. In his search, Damien even went as far as scouring local karaoke bars for the right talent. Or so he claims. It would be more believable had he not had a beer at every venue he visited.
CB: Was this difficult to sell into the client? On paper it could look like a difficult presentation to get across all the little visual gags that make the film.
McKeon: Presenting a demo of the song gave a great indication of the final product, and really helped everyone see the potential straight away. The lyrics “I don’t need two hands to hold you” and the relatable one-handed gestures of love set the tone for a great piece of work. That being said, the DB clients are always really brave, get ideas and add to projects. So it’s always less of a ‘sell’ process and more of collaboration.
CB: What did the director bring to the job and why did you choose Damian Shatford from Sweetshop to direct?
McKeon: “I’m Drinking It For You” is almost a self-portrait of Damien’s inner workings; beautiful and confronting at the same time. He is also a very talented musician (banjo player), who started out in music video production.
Damien is an impossibly talented director. As well as a solid, established relationship with Thom and Beth that allowed for a level of shorthand communication verging on offensive, he and the Sweetshop team grasped the idea instantly and elevated its authenticity at every stage – casting real singers, staying true to the music industry process, and pushing the tone of the spot. This film is packed with memorable moments and charm you simply cannot script, and that’s all Damien.
CB: A comment from the Ad Stars jury was they had 7 jurors all from diverse cultures and all of them loved the campaign. Do you think humour is universally appreciated and travels well across different cultures?
McKeon: I think it’s the authenticity that translates. The film depicts real, everyday love. It’s not ‘Romeo and Juliet’, but rather ‘Rob and Jules’ at the relationship stage when they’ve stopped closing the bathroom door. And that’s what everyone seems to get.
CB: The film scored a couple of Bronze Lions at Cannes. Personally, I think it should have done much better.
McKeon: I love the work that won at Cannes this year and think we’re in good company to be taking home metal. We’ve also been receiving outstanding feedback from industry press and other awards shows, so I’m really proud of the team and the campaign’s success.
CB: Max, you started in Australia then moved to the US and then to New Zealand. Why did you decide to leave the US and move to New Zealand?
McKeon: I’ve been privileged to work with some great talents from all over the world, which has meant picking up habits from some of the best people in advertising. Some of these habits have been very beneficial to my work. The others have been really fun.
The move to NZ was driven by Colenso and the culture. Coming from the local market, I was always jealous of Colenso’s work. Realising that view was shared around the world during my time abroad just made it impossible to say no to when the opportunity to work here arose.
CB: The NZ industry has always punched above its weight creatively and Colenso has also always punched above its weight creatively. Why do you think this is so?
McKeon: The Kiwi tone of voice is perfect for advertising. Polite at face value with a cheeky, irreverent, mischievous undertone. Also, everyone here is only separated by two degrees of separation, which means whoever you need to make a project happen – from specialists to professors to the PM herself – is usually someone’s cousin, mate or a person who lives down the road. And they’re always keen to help.
Then there’s Colenso. There’s a feverous culture of creativity here that is full of helpful, passionate people. Too many great ideas to make happen at once is a very enviable position to be in.
CB: What’s your advice to creatives trying to succeed in their careers?
McKeon: More a general address to advertising: stop making ads. Make the news, make things, make entertainment, make people interested in what you make to make them interested in what your clients make. It would help a lot if clients expected more from agencies than ads, and the way we’ll get to that is to prove what we can do as an industry.