Tullamore Dew takes inadvertent swipe at Trump's immigration rhetoric in campaign celebrating human blend

A new global campaign for Tullamore Dew evokes historical parallels with its references to historical anti-Irish discrimination - but its current political significance was an accident of timing, the Irish whiskey's brand director told Campaign.

The brand is rolling out a pair of new short films, "No Irish need apply" and "Danny Boy", created by New York agency Opperman Weiss, to launch what is planned to be a long-running brand platform, "Beauty of blend".

The full, 150-second version of "No Irish need apply" is a poetic monologue to camera delivered by the character of Danny Boy, an Irishman who moved to Brooklyn to take over his father’s bar.

Played by Ronan Graham, the character recalls the history of racial discrimination faced by the Irish throughout history, before musing on the richness that the US's ethnic and cultural "blend" brings to the country. At the end, we discover that Danny Boy has fallen in love with an African American woman.

The 90-second "Danny Boy" spot involves a rendition of the titular song by the bar’s diverse group of punters, with Danny Boy’s girlfriend joining in towards the end.

A 45 second version of "Danny Boy" will run for 12 weeks on TV in the US, which is the brand’s largest market. The campaign will be present in around 20 markets, including the UK, where it will appear in paid social and owned channels.

The campaign was created by the agency’s founders and joint executive creative directors, Jeff Weiss and Paul Opperman. The films were directed through Superprime by Laurence Dunmore, who also helmed 2013 campaign, "The parting glass". Media planning and buying for the UK is being handled in-house.

No Muslims need apply (for a visa)

For many, the references to historic anti-Irish prejudice are likely to be taken as a veiled criticism of US President Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration agenda.

But global brand director Caspar MacRae insisted that as the campaign had been in development for more than a year, and its topical relevance was essentially coincidental.

"There’s no ways we could have known the specifics of the US political landscape when we started," he said. "These are enduring debates that happen in society – we couldn't conceive at the time how topical it would be. And that’s something we considered: would it be perceived as jumping on the bandwagon?"

But though not intended to make a potentially divisive political point, the campaign was definitely "values-based", MacRae said: "The two things we really want to champion are the benefits of cultural diversity and social inclusiveness."

The idea of "blend" that the brand platform is built around brings together both ideas with facts about how the product is made (with a blend of three types of whiskey), the history of the brand, and the traditions of Irish whiskey drinking.

The theme of cultural diversity through immigration was chosen because Tullamore Dew, which was founded in 1829, first became popular as an export brand with the Irish diaspora around the world, particularly in America.

The message "No Irish need apply" is first known to have appeared in a classified ad in New York around 1842, MacRae said, "around the same time the first exports would have been arriving. Irishmen were enjoying Tullamore in the bars at the same time this came up."

The anti-Irish prejudice that pervaded both British and American society in the 19th century, and into the 20th, was extreme and dehumanising, MacRae added.

"That society stereotyped the Irish to the point where pictures that illustrated them at the time drew them with monkey-like faces," he said.

The brand is also aiming to associate with social blending, MacRae said.

"Part of our realisation about what makes Irish whiskey distinct from single malt Scotch or small batch bourbon, is those whiskies are really developed for being savoured by connoisseurs, often in solitude. They are very exclusive.

"Irish whiskey has always been enjoyed in a different way – it’s at the heart of the community hub."

The power of storytelling

Brand owner William Grant acquired Tullamore Dew in 2010 and in 2014, took production back to the town of Tullamore for the first time in 60 years.

"Our evolution has been really helped by Opperman Wise who have helped all the way on this," MacRae said.

"It’s wonderful for us to have both an external and internal perspective on what it means to be Irish. And one of the things that came out is the Irish belief in storytelling. For us, storytelling has always been a wonderful way of communicating. It really does generate interest around the brand."

The new campaign is actually part of a continuing storyline that MacRae acknowledged "probably very few people will ever become aware of." Ronan Graham’s character is the same one who appeared in "The parting glass" as the brother of the groom.

"Ronan has moved from Ireland to take over his fathers bar in Brooklyn, and in doing that he’s found love and become married," MacRae explained.