Aberlour press campaign
Aberlour press campaign
Agency: BMP DDB. Year: 1990. Art Director: Mark Reddy. Copywriter: Richard Grisdale. Typographer: David Wakefield. Illustrators: Clare Melinsky, Allyson McNeill.
Agency: BMP. Year: 1990. Art Director: Mark Reddy. Copywriter: Richard Grisdale. Typographer: David Wakefield. Illustrators: Allyson McNeill, Clare Melinsky.
If you want to know if an ad agency is any good, don’t look at their showreel.

Search out the smaller space, lower budget stuff. Because the mark of a great agency is its desire and ability to maintain standards across absolutely everything. It’s extremely difficult to do of course, but some agencies get close.

These ads for Aberlour whisky appeared on the Crossword Page of The Times newspaper, one per week. They were produced in 1990 by British agency BMP. (RIP. They have since, like a lot of great places, been merged out of existence.)

BMP was famous for many sublime, culture-influencing TV ads during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. But it’s testament to the agency that even a brief for some lowly, ’column-inch’ black and white newspaper ads received the same love, attention to detail and creative firepower as the big budget TV work.

So what makes these ads so brilliant? Oh, just the copywriting, art direction, typography and illustration… All executed to the very highest level by some of the best practitioners in the business. In a medium that is usually palmed off onto the nearest intern.

The beautiful illustrations are wood engravings and lino cuts in just the right style. And they perfectly complement the subject matter of each ad.

The tone of the copy is appropriately witty and elitist, with all the snobbery attached to drinking a high-end single malt. This campaign is basically a sally of politically incorrect observations on the cultural world one aspires to when one drinks in the Aberlour: Who to patronize in the Arts, where to be educated, the correct vessel to drink from, and so on.

They’re a joy to read, elevated massively by the typography. This degree of craft is so depressingly rare in advertising.

The ads are set using letterpress printing in a beautifully-worn metal fount called ‘Mazarin’ which seems to capture the essence of traditional whisky values with its quirky roman appearance. (Check out that uppercase ’R’.)

The ‘Kick up the Arts’ execution (above) sends up modern art. So the copy is set in two columns to parody both the ‘crazy paving’ mentioned in the copy and perhaps also a fleeting nod to Ben Nicholson’s ‘reliefs’. The oversized bullet full-stop is also a nice touch.
‘Unleaded Whisky’ has illustrative typography, with body copy in the shape of a glass.

Justified (to hold an edge) and centred on the short lines for decorative infill. With a piece of engraved ornament linking to an inventive use of the logo to create the base.
‘Hogshead Revisited’ uses two column book pages, perfectly justified with traditional paragraph ‘blinds’ and an open book ornament to finish. The book’s ribbon swags match the sofa legs in the illustration. Yep, God is in the details.
‘Campus Mentis’ has justified type, with raised em quad spacing, built to ‘type height’ for an inked representation of ‘quoins’ that are found on the edge of buildings. With the first one specially ‘lightened’ so as not to overpower the capital ‘U’.
‘Yob Opportunities’ is an amusing advertising send-up describing the creative team presenting their campaign to the distillery client. Being fobbed off with a glass of sherry so as not to waste the Aberlour on undesirables.

The typography echoes the tightness of the whole story. Justified into every piece of available space within those metal rules with a keyhole in the centre mirroring the locked cupboard holding the precious Aberlour. With the word: ‘secreted’ in italic just in the right spot under the keyhole. The metal rules were filed down to a slightly lower height so as not to overpower the text and bring up the strength of the keyhole (made from a bullet and triangular metal material).
‘House and Gargle’ is decorated at the beginning and end of the six-line text panels with ornament-constructed wallpaper pieces. Note that there is no short last line to upset the balance.

Who on earth could ignore a brand (or an ad agency) prepared to respect the viewer with such superb work.