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Behind the bar: How Sipsmith crafts the perfect gin

The creative team behind Sipsmith's screen debut explain how they brought the character to life with all the style, craft and attention to detail befitting the brand

Behind the bar: How Sipsmith crafts the perfect gin

When it came to which production technique would best suit gin brand Sipsmith for its first ever commercial, stop-motion animation was the only choice, according to Kate Moorcroft, global marketing director at the London micro-distillery, which has won the latest Thinkboxes award for TV ad creativity as chosen by the Thinkbox Academy for "Mr Swan", created by Ogilvy UK.

"Not only is stop-motion animation a distinct and engaging way to tell our story, it is a labour-intensive and very skilled process that doesn’t allow for corners to be cut – and that’s our approach to making gin," she explains. "The film is a true celebration of the skill of things made by hand, just as our gin is handcrafted."

In the commercial, suave Mr Swan – the brand’s icon, inspired by the shape of the necks on its gin stills – discusses what makes Sipsmith different. Most of the effects were achieved directly in-camera and, featuring around 10,000 unique assembled and hand-made elements, the film is a triumph of painstaking labour and attention to detail.

The need to craft an ad appropriate for a brand that prides itself on not compromising and the story of how far Sipsmith has gone to make the perfect gin provided rich inspiration for the creative team. "We looked at a huge amount of concepts around the idea of not making compromises," says Ogilvy’s executive creative director, Jules Chalkley. "Craft became before the idea, not the process. And the thought of using animation came from the director, Jeff Low, who had a standout treatment and felt we needed to bring the idea to life in a disruptive way."

The production company also pitched the team of animators who worked on acclaimed stop-motion movies Fantastic Mr Fox and Isle of Dogs – both directed by Wes Anderson and filmed at London’s 3 Mill Studios, where "Mr Swan" was eventually shot.

"It’s the animators’ craft that takes the film to the next level," says Chalkley. "For example, rather than create a flat 2D model of St Paul’s, they made a scale 3D model from the original drawings so they could light it like the real St Paul’s. That’s craft."

Define your character
Before anything was built, however, they needed a script. The idea was to develop a character that people would like to have a drink with.

"We knew working with moving image was going to give us opportunities for storytelling that may have proved challenging in other formats," says Jim Mills, Sipsmith’s head of branded content. "As soon as we read this script we could tell we had something special – the characters, the settings and the humour felt both part of this fantastical world and yet strikingly familiar."

"To do justice to the brand, we felt we needed to do something very different. With the craft-driven idea, no detail could be too small"
  Jules Chalkley, executive creative director, Ogilvy

Sound came first and that meant finding the right voice. The search was extensive, as the character of Mr Swan was central to making the ad work. Once comedian and actor Julian Barratt came on board, the focus was on honing the detail.

"Jeff worked closely with Julian and kept pushing the character and comedy. A lot of writing went to the wall and a lot of the character was brought by Julian trying things in the studio," Chalkley reveals. "We wanted wit. The script was only finally nailed in the very last voiceover recording."

The animation process then followed. For the shoot, puppets were made from a combination of foam and silicone, to ensure they were light and poseable, and with the most intricate of detailing, such as the hand-stitched pockets and tiny buttons on their clothes.

Miniature glassware was hand-blown, too, to create to-scale replicas of Sipsmith’s unique glasses, bottles and the glass balloons it uses for its experimental gins. Even the drink the central character holds in the final film contains tiny slithers of real lime peel. Chalkley marvels: "We’re talking millimetres. It’s world-class film-making."

Moorcroft hopes the finished ad – now running on addressable TV via AdSmart, social channels and cinema – does justice to Sipsmith’s passion and belief in craft with zero compromise. It is also a neat demonstration of how to get the most out of a TV script and ensure it all ends up on screen.

"Listen to the experts. As a client, you need to trust when to put your brand in their hands," advises Moorcroft.

Adds Mills: "Attention to detail is hugely important to us, and we all felt that if we couldn’t do something properly, within the logistical limitations, then we wouldn’t do it at all."

"Our hope is that this will be a fame-driving piece of work, to give people a feeling for our brand values and personality"
  Jim Mills, head of branded content, Sipsmith

Chalkley’s tips? "Never stop the writing – it’s not over until it’s edited. Go with the treatment you weren’t expecting. Work with the best – because they are the best. Paul Arden said that, but it’s true."

‘Boy’ for British Heart Foundation by MullenLowe London and ‘First Dates’ for Citroën by Havas London won second and third place, respectively, in the latest Thinkboxes winners’ line-up.

THINKBOXES AWARD WINNER MARCH/APRIL

Creative agency Ogilvy UK
Executive creative director Jules Chalkley
Creative Giles Montgomery
Copywriter/Creative director Lotte Jeffs
Creative director Ilka Mourao
Art director Jonny Durgan
Client Sam Galsworthy, Fairfax Hall, Jared Brown
Production company Biscuit Filmworks
Director Jeff Low
Strategists Oliver Egan, Andrew Nicholls

Also shortlisted this month...
‘Boy’ (MullenLowe London for British Heart Foundation)
‘First Dates’ (Havas London for Citroën)
‘So Stylish You Can Wear It’ (The&Partnership London for Argos)
‘Hairdo’ (The Leith Agency for Irn Bru)


The Thinkboxes, in association with Campaign, are the only regular awards that celebrate the UK’s world-beating TV ad creativity throughout the year. They’re judged by the Thinkbox Academy – 200 advertising and marketing luminaries who have been involved in award-winning creative work for TV.

To see the winning ad and shortlist, visit The Thinkboxes.

Want to see more great work? Head to the Thinkboxes hub

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