Where I come from, Johnnie Walker is the undisputed king of whisky. I practically grew up on it.
Black Label was my beverage of choice. It was at every party, all weddings, births, graduations and most funerals. In a nutshell, if you you didn’t serve it, you’d hear about it!
It wasn’t until I started working in advertising that I began to appreciate the reasons behind JW’s success. They have a fantastic story and they’re brilliant at telling it…
Tapping Into The Quest Narrative – “Keep Walking”
We all relate to quests. They’re what get us up out of bed in the morning, keep us moving; give us hope, and push us to strive for more.
I’m not entirely sure JW intentionally tapped into “the quest” narrative initially, it might’ve happened by chance.
In 1908, illustrator Tom Browne sketched the “striding man” on the back of a menu card. The intent was to create a likeness of John Walker in traditional attire.
In the logo, the man is walking forward, which Diageo (JW’s parent) says symbolises forward thinking and the pursuit of excellence.
Chance or not, today Johnnie Walker fully understand the value of “the quest” narrative in storytelling and capitalise on it brilliantly.
The striding man now symbolises “the quest”. The Striding Man says that sometimes you have to take the the road less traveled to find something of value – no matter how hard the journey.
The Striding Man stands for resilience, determination and endurance. The Striding Man urges you to conquer your fears and overcome your challenges. The Striding Man encourages you to follow your dreams no matter how far fetched they appear at first.
The JW communication perfectly captures this mentality in the award winning “Keep Walking” campaign.
The “Keep Walking” Campaign
In the early days of TV advertising, the Johnnie Walker brand identity and communication was all about the quest; the quest for love, happiness, for career, and for the meaning of life in general.
The quest was communicated brilliantly by BBH via TV and print ads. They were ground breaking at the time (see right).
Today, while these ads still resonate, they do not necessarily appeal to a new generation of consumers (and future drinkers of JW); The digital natives.
It’s not that the ads were badly executed, in fact they were perfectly executed. It’s just that they simply did not appeal. The ads did not feel real, they appeared fabricated.
With the advent of the internet age, JW’s consumer had become jaded. To give them credit, I think JW realised this and hence their new campaign, “Walk with Giants”.
Real Life Storytelling – “Walk With Giants”
In January 2009 the Johnnie Walker brand took storytelling to the next level by launching the “Walk with Giants” advertising campaign.
The series of videos featured famous celebrities from across the world narrating inspiring stories about themselves and urging consumers to “keep walking” (see left). In my opinion, it was advertising at its best and planted the initial seeds to tap into the mentality of the digital native.
BBH followed their advertising brilliance in Asia by creating a series of adverts about an architect who leaves his job in order to follow his dream of becoming a film-maker. There are 7 adverts that follow his journey; through the highs and lows.
While these adverts were brilliant in concept and execution, they still failed to appeal to the “digital native”.
Digital Johnnie – Taking the Stories Online
If I’m totally honest, I’m not too impressed with digital Johnnie. You’d imagine that a brand with such stories to tell would excel online. Alas, that’s not the case. Some stats:
- Google Discussion search for the brand shows only 486,000 results.
- Their Twitter accounts have just over a thousand followers each and very fragmented.
- Their Facebook Fan page only has 647,797 and only 3,978 are “talking about it” that’s a measly 0.6% engagment rate!
To maintain its edge as the leading brand of Whiskies, Johnnie Walker must realise that there is a new generation of consumers who think, behave and act differently. To connect with these consumers, the JW brand must have a stronger online presence. This is very much doable and can be accomplished through a well orchestrated transmedia strategy.
Johnnie Walker & Transmedia Storytelling
Johnnie Walker can do much better in the digital space. They have to make better use of technology and online tools. They must tap into the concept of transmedia storytelling to succeed.
In a nutshell, it’s about ensuring that their brand stories are told (and shared) via multiple channels. Here are some of my intial tips (these will be updated and fleshed out on an ongoing basis so keep coming back):
- The stories are very well told but lack in the viral appeal (i.e they’re not being shared)
- JW is failing to own and host “the quest” conversation. They have the perfect platform (Online) to do so but are shying away from it!
- More user-generated content needed. Ask fans for their stories. Use the “Striding Man Society to ask the question: “What’s Your Story?” That’s more real and will generate more engagement.
- The brand’s Facebook engagement with Fans is not engaging!
- Twitter is fragmented. One account should be sufficient. Most Scotch drinkers speak English.
- Same goes for YouTube. I struggled to find all JW content and had to scour multiple accounts to find what I wanted.
Johnnie Walker is a strong brand with amazing heritage. They’re brilliant at telling their story but not so good at engaging their audience online. Their stories need to be told via multiple channels including online (transmedia storytelling).
If they can accomplish this they’ll future-proof their business and ensure that a new generation of Whisky drinkers are as passionate about their brand as I am.
Other places to Find Johnnie