Rankin on not bastardising cultures or brands in advertising

Rankin's film for The Macallan

This month, world-renowned photographer Rankin directed a new ad for Scottish Whisky brand The Macallan, alongside View Creative, aimed at an audience in a wide range of countries in Asia. In a much more globally curious world, Rankin says authenticity is key in order to keep the essence of brands and local cultures sacred. If not you risk the “inevitable bastardising of both”.

The ‘Project Double Cask’ ad aimed to give the brand a high-fashion, storytelling creative to convey the “art and science” that’s involved in creating the drink. But how do you tell a provenance story from Scotland to an Asian audience? Rankin is quick to point out by questioning, “Did you know that Asia is the fastest growing whisky market in the world?” Asian consumers love whisky and a Scottish heritage can be appealing.

The Macallan "Project Double Cask" - 60" Film from RankinFilm on Vimeo.

“There is this huge love affair with the heritage, history and story of Scottish distilleries. It’s like two worlds colliding. So the appetite is already there. It just was a question of how you take that quite traditional idea of craft heritage and do something modern with it for that market. That's what I loved about View Creative’s script; it felt authentic to whisky traditions, but messed with your head at the same time. Also, having worked with Macallan in the past, I know they are willing to take risks within their genre. It’s not like we’ve reinvented the wheel but it’s pretty out there for a whisky film!” he says.

With the heritage story ready to appeal, mixed with an out-there non-traditional approach to telling it, the recipe for success is bubbling away. However, creating a connection to a piece of creative can be challenging in such a fragmented market.

“It’s funny, I showed this film to a Chinese friend of mine and he said the casting wasn’t aspirational enough. My reply was that I just wanted a guy that could act and had something unique/mysterious about him. It made me realise that I always go back to authenticity and believability, even when a guy is trying to find himself in a world of mirrors,” he says, “Personally, I think that the search for a good performance from somebody that you can’t box or bottle, is what translates best.”

Rankin said the freedom to create something unusual came in the brief and with a fragmented and diverse region to connect with, the flexibility helped.

“Asia is such an intricate jigsaw of cultures and identity, so I think cultural respect is crucial. But what I loved about this brief is that there was no ulterior motive to create content that was just about heritage or taste. That stuff kind of goes without saying with The Macallan and I love that confidence. As such, there was no crowbarring of The Macallan into Asian culture and heritage, and the inevitable bastardising of both. Nothing didactic or arrogant or egotistical. We set out to create a film that takes you on an unusual journey, that hopefully can be enjoyed by whoever watches it,” he argues.

With creativity in some digital areas, such as mobile, coming under scrutiny in APAC, we ask the director what he thinks. “Wow, too big a question,” he replies, and he is right. A common mistake, while also useful at other times, is creating one ‘APAC’ because it’s unfair to generalise in such broad strokes.

“Personally I love working in Asia, as it takes me out of my comfort zone and I think that interesting things happen when you go to that kind of creative insecurity space. Obviously I’m fascinated by all cultures and humanity everywhere, it all interests me. But, honestly, I’m no expert on Asia; you’d have to ask Graham Fink!” he says.

The Macallan ‘Project Double Cast’ campaign was selected by The Drum readers as this week’s Work of the Week in APAC. See The Drum’s Creative Works section to vote on the latest campaigns from around the world.

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