Woodsman Whisky’s: “Well Earned” campaign

Alcohol advertising can be a tricky area to navigate, especially when it comes to making sure your ad doesn’t appeal strongly to children under 18.

BCAP code rule 19.15.1Alcohol advertisement must not be likely to appeal strongly to people under 18, especially by reflecting or being associated with youth culture or showing adolescent or juvenile behaviour.

When the alcoholic drinks company, Whyte and Mackay, and their agency, Mr President, approached us for help launching their new campaign for Woodsman Whisky, our Copy Development Manager, Pete Bellas was happy to share his expertise in this challenging area.

The script and storyboards were sent from our copy team to Pete, who was then able to spend more time working one-on-one with the agency. He looked closely at their creative ideas and offered advice to make sure that the story and characters were compliant with BCAP code rules.

The challenge

The ad’s main characters were a family of beavers, in puppet form, working or ‘beavering’ away in the woods to build a beaver-size hot tub. At first glance, this could be cause for concern – animals, puppets, cute voices – surely this would strongly appeal to under-18s? Pete, however, is used to taking great ideas and helping to make them a compliant reality. To make sure that the beavers didn’t appeal strongly to under-18s, Pete pinpointed four main areas to consider: their appearance, behaviour, humour, and accompanying music.

Appearance: cutesy beavers

With a story featuring animal puppets, it was important to make sure they avoided cutesy-looking characters that children might be drawn to. Across multiple weeks, Pete worked closely with the creative agency over video calls and emails, to get their appearance just right. Together they were able to tweak and redesign parts of the beavers’ appearances, like narrowing their eyes, removing their smiles and bucking their teeth, so that their facial expressions were closer to that of real-life beavers. They also made their fur look wet, matted and muddy, to fit in with the dark and moody tones of the woodland environment.

Two beaver puppets sitting in a hot tub in a woodland. One of the film crew is adjusting one of the beavers.

Behaviour: silly beavers

There was still work to be done on the beavers’ behaviour and set pieces. Pete advised the agency to come up with creative solutions to make sure it wasn’t too silly or immature, by avoiding cute, cartoon-style facial expressions, high-pitched voices, and child-like behaviour. 

Humour: funny beavers

Whilst humour is acceptable in alcohol advertisements, it must not be linked to a style of humour commonly associated with children or teenagers, such as slapstick comedy or practical jokes. After reviewing their storyboards, Pete recommended softening the humour in certain scenes. They removed slapstick jokes and youthful behaviour as the beavers built the hot tub, while still maintaining whimsical and cheery humour to fit the client’s brief.

Accompanying music

Pete and the agency reviewed several originally-composed songs that were to be used to accompany the beavers’ actions, matching their rhythm throughout the ad. The initial music shared was very catchy with a repetitive beat, this could be seen as having similarities nursery rhymes so the team worked together on bringing it to a more adult space, landing on a track that resembled bluegrass/ folk-style music which inherently appeals to an older audience.

The result

Throughout the process, Pete kept the Copy Clearance team up to date with his progress. He presented updated storyboards and rough-cut videos at each stage of the process, to make sure the team was happy with his advice.

It’s important to remember that Copy Development isn’t clearance itself and can’t necessarily guarantee approval. It is, however, the groundwork for the best possible chance of making it through clearance smoothly and getting that all-important approval, without any issues.

After working together throughout the pre-production process, Pete presented the new creative ideas to senior Copy Clearance colleagues, in our daily Policy and Copy Meeting (PCM). The team was happy with the changes and subsequently approved the creative at the storyboard stage.

Moving onto production, Pete remained on hand for advice. He was able to provide instant feedback for the crew shooting in the woods, meaning the team could share shots of anything that might be controversial live, so the ad remained compliant. 

The film crew in a woods behind a camera

The final ad was submitted. And the results were in…

It’s good news! They deemed the beavers’ new appearance “almost-realistic”, their behaviour and humour – although fun – not particularly juvenile, and they had no issues with the music. All of this meant that it wasn’t likely to strongly appeal to under 18s, and that they could deem it as acceptable.

“Working with the copy development service for this project was key, we know there’s a fine line when advertising in a restricted category and the nature of the idea meant there was always going to be a level of risk. The team really helped us understand all the different elements that build up the full picture and ensure that we were sitting on the right side of that line. It was far beyond just the look and feel of the beavers, we needed to review the overall tone of the ad, the colouring of the ad, the music, the scenes, the sound design, and more.”

  • Julia, MR President (creative agency)

What happened next?

When a complaint is made about a TV ad, we provide a rationale to the ASA in defence of why we cleared it. The Woodsman Whisky ad did indeed get a complaint, which is not uncommon for ads of all kinds.  The ASA said that “complainants believed that the beavers featured in the ads were appealing to people aged under 18 years of age“, however because of all the work that had gone into the campaign, Clearcast and the client were confident that they had a strong enough defence. By detailing all of this, as well as our rationale behind the approval, the ASA agreed it was not appealing to children and therefore not in breach of the code rule.

The ad was able to stay on air – a success!

To give your best ideas the strongest chance for clearance success, get in touch with Pete at

27th February 2024