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Ad of the Day: Southern Comfort Stumbles Upon the Genius of Its Karate Man


Southern Comfort is keeping things weird and hypnotizing with its latest work from Wieden + Kennedy in New York.

Just try to take your eyes off the brand's current, silent pitchman—last seen in June sipping the liquor while getting an intense scalp massage from a hairdresser, and now wearing coloring foils while showing off his karate chops, in slow motion, at the same salon.

It's strangely graceful and completely ridiculous. The sequence is paced and delivered to a tee, from the actor's unblinking stare and the sliding of his feet to the gaga eyes of the female patrons. Every detail of the set and costume design—linoleum floors, too-tight jeans—is exactly in place, making for an overall visual style that almost evokes the hairs-on-end atmosphere of the Coen Brothers à la No Country for Old Men, or A Serious Man. Ultimately, though, it borrows more from the deadpan, this-can't-be-real humor of Napoleon Dynamite.

Funnily, the ad wasn't part of the original plan for the campaign, but rather was inspired by the actor's casting tape for the earlier shampoo commercial. According to the agency, he is—in real life—a martial artist and an owner of a couple dojos. So, W+K's creative team and Tim Goodsall, the campaign's director, added a second script written to play up his karate chops.

As it turns out, the secondary spot is better than the first—on par with the series' first, beach-strutting ad from last year. The new hero already fit the current typecast Southern Comfort drinker: portly, mustached, middle aged and long on attitude. But the peculiar-but-relatable vibe is much clearer here. It doesn't hurt that he looks like a cross between Tommy Lee Jones and Danny Trejo—resemblances that didn't come through quite as well in the first ad, and that strengthen this one's punch. He's not a celebrity, but he feels like he kind of could be (a local one, at least).

That sort of self-possessed everyman vanity is what makes these ads work for the brand, rather than just as entertainment. It's pretty unusual for a marketer—especially a booze brand—to celebrate confident, weathered, potbellied oddballs, as opposed to, say, beautiful, sexy, young could-be models. He's also not the balding, whiney schlub of a pudding commercial. When, in the final shot, he snaps his hand over, and a glass of Southern Comfort appears in it, flying the company's little red we-don't-give-a-shit flag, it makes perfect sense. The message: This is the drink of the average winner.

Whether that's true is, of course, an entirely different story.

Client: Southern Comfort
Spot: "Karate"

Agency: Wieden + Kennedy, New York
Executive Creative Directors: Scott Vitrone, Ian Reichenthal
Creative Director: Jimm Lasser
Creatives: Nick Kaplan, Jeff Dryer
Producer: Orlee Tatarka
Head of Business Affairs: Sara Jagielski
Head of Content Production: Lora Schulson
Account Team: Toby Hussey, Molly Friedman
Strategic Planner: Ben Alter
Digital Strategist: Marshall Ball

Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Tim Godsall
Executive Producer: Holly Vega
Line Producer: Rick Jarjoura
Director of Photography: Darko Suvak

Editorial Company: Mackenzie Cutler
Editor: Gavin Cutler
Assistant Editor: Ryan Steele
Executive Post Producer: Sasha Hirschfeld

Visual Effects Company: The Mill
Visual Effects Head of Production: Sean Costelloe
Visual Effects Producer: Orlaith Finucane
Lead Flame Artist: Jade Kim
Visual Effects Supervisors: Peter Smith, Peter McAuley

Song: "I'm a Fool to Care"
Artists: Les Paul, Mary Ford
Music Supervisor: Andrew Charles Kahn
Music Supervision Company: Good Ear Music Supervision

Mix Company: Sonic Union
Mixer: Steve Rosen

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