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Anatomy of a Branded Video: Captain Morgan Birthday Celebration

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Anyone who’s ever made a video in partnership with a major sponsor will tell you that the process involves a very delicate two-step. So, when given a chance to talk to both dance partners on a campaign being launched today, I decided to take it as an opportunity to learn more about the process.

The video in question is a one-shot produced for Captain Morgan Rum by Captain Morgan Birthday Celebration depicts fake news coverage of the international festivities surrounding the “375ish” birthday of the liquor’s spokesperson. While only two and a half minutes, the video went through a great deal of back and forth between creator and client, and took six weeks to execute from conception to uploading.

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Typically, a brand interested in putting together a campaign will issue RFPs (Request For Proposals) to potential media partners, who will then put together several ideas for the brand to consider. In the case of this viral, however, the agency for Captain Morgan’s parent company Diageo (s DEO) (which is also the holding company for alcohol brands like Guinness, Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Tanqueray, and many other bottles you’ll find in your liquor cabinet) approached Break directly because they’d worked with the male-skewing video site before and, according to Diageo Brand Director Tom Herbst, “they understand what our brand personality and voice is.”

On Break’s end, they pitched two ideas and one was selected; the script then went through several drafts, mostly to make sure that the character of the Captain was being captured accurately. “It’s sort of the 80/20 rule,” Herbst said. “The good thing about the Captain is that he’s an iconic guy who’s been around for a while, and we have a brief we send out to everyone we work with about the Captain’s personality. 80 percent of that is relatively painless, it’s that last 20 percent that you really have to sweat out.”

Break SVP of Editorial & Creative Jonathan Small said that one note they faced in early drafts was that “[The Captain] was talking too pirate-y. There are no ARRRRs and no parrot with him. He’s not really a pirate so much as he is a swashbuckler.” Herbst characterizes him as a “lovable rogue.”

When I asked Herbst if he’d ever imagined spending this much of his life defining the difference between a pirate and a buccaneer/swashbuckler type he said no, adding, “[Captain Morgan] is a unique brand in that we have a mascot. In our industry especially, it’s one of the unique things about us. And as a result, I spend a lot of my time with grown men dressed like pirates.”


Small said that while sometimes a representative from the brand will come to the set on the day of shooting, in this case there was a level of trust between them and Captain Morgan; plus, “Since they’ve signed off on the script, there shouldn’t be any surprises,” he said.

On set, though, Captain Morgan was accompanied by his personal publicist from Rogers and Cowan — oh, by “Captain Morgan,” I mean the brand’s designated “lead face,” who portrays the “loveable rogue” in national ad spots and major publicity events.

Break’s in-house production team put together the shoot, which lasted two days in mid-April, and a week later a rough cut was ready.


Break sent its first cuts not to Diageo but to MediaCom, Diageo’s media agency, which then went through more rounds of notes, the biggest one being the video’s length. Both sides agreed that it was playing too long, and decided to cut it down.

This is also where the type of brand one might be working with can make things interesting. Because Diageo owns alcohol brands, they look at everything through “a filter of responsibility,” making sure that they’re not promoting any sort of irresponsible consumption. This means that not only were they very sensitive to exactly how much partying and drinking was visible on screen, but that in general, they make sure that at least 70 percent of the audience of any media partner they work with is over the legal drinking age of 21.

A final version was approved this week, three days before its premiere. Meanwhile, Break had begun setting up a custom channel for the video, relying on its heavy incoming traffic to spread the word. “We reach 100 million guys every month through all of our sites,” Small said. “So we don’t have to rely on outside distribution partners.” The video launched last night accompanied by site-wide banner ads on Break, on the eve of the designated May 15.

Here’s the big thing about this fable: This was a relatively smooth operation between two companies that have a pre-existing relationship and know they work well together; in fact, this is the second of four campaigns Break is creating for Captain Morgan. So this story has a happy ending, but it’s after six weeks of compromise and negotiation over what ended up being a two and a half minute video. Imagine how difficult it might be for a bigger project — between less friendly companies.

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