Johnnie Walker

I just discovered Johnnie Walker this morning in a TV commercial. This world-leading scotch whiskey has been around since the 1800s, so you can accuse me of being out of the loop. Nevertheless, I have to add my two tardy cents about JW's current and compelling, albeit problematic, marketing effort.

Keep Walking
Bartle Bogle and Hegarty (BBH) launched the "Keep Walking" campaign in 1999, with an aim to link Johnnie Walker with progress and success among young professionals. The design above, by Jason Hill, for example, "highlights the journey to the top corner office."

BBH explains, "[I]t's in business that the self-made men find their fullest articulation...creating themselves in the tangible work of a day, they are what they choose to be, inventing their reality brick-by-brick, step-by-step." According to the JW website, "The yellow line represents the journey as he moves forward toward distinction."

Whiskey = Identity
The campaign displays simple and consistent creativity, a powerful use of imagery, and an identity-boosting, thrill ride offertory to its primary audience: 25-45 year old men.

But that's the problem. Besides whatever qualms you may have with whiskey in general, "Keep Walking" garners its power by associating whiskey with identity. Identity is the allure. You drink a glass of processed earthen items like barley and water, and you suddenly become a million bucks. The simple ingredients transform you into a culturally elite success story. At least, that's how you feel.


In this commercial, JW goes further by associating itself with the immortalization of your identity. But does field grain create social advancement and lasting success? Can water elevate you historically?

Of course not. Association plays that trick on you. Linking these basic items with the high life in graphically appealing ways plays that trick on you. This intriguing Washington Post article explains how JW plays that trick on you.

While I celebrate achievement and encourage the endless placing of one foot in front of another, I detest manipulative illusions and hyper-inflated product values. Succeed, yes; achieve, yes; press on, yes. But none of us can pretend these actions into our lives by wrapping our fingers around a drink.

In my next post, I'll show the commercial that got me started on Johnnie Walker. Stay tuned.

5 comments:

Every Square Inch March 2, 2009 at 8:41 AM  

Sam - I'm loving your blog because lately, I've been focused on marketing, branding, social media.

Here's what's hitting me as I'm reading your posts - ads like JW are tapping into this vacuum in our fallen hearts for something more.

To paraphrase Augustine - "we're made for God..our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Him but why don't you buy some merchandise on your way there"

Sam Van Eman March 2, 2009 at 10:02 AM  

That's it, ESI. That's always been the big piece for me when it comes to advertising.

If you're interested in a longer look at this, I wrote a book a few years ago on the subject. You can read the first chapter at http://www.simgospel.com/OnEarthBook.html

Thanks for your comments here. I always appreciate thoughtful readers!

Marcus Goodyear March 2, 2009 at 3:51 PM  

Man, I don't know about the whiskey connection, but that is one awesome commercial. Take off the ending and it's like a scifi short film.

Add the ending and I'm left wondering, what are they trying to tell me? My life will have meaning if I drink Johnnie Walker because it's "one great thing."

That's hard to swallow.

Sam Van Eman March 2, 2009 at 5:32 PM  

I agree. The commercial is quite good. And that's where association gains strength. Uncool video, uncool drink. But raise the coolness, add the element of progress and standing above the rest, and now your drink takes on meaning.

Then we take this meaning into a party, where the words "Johnnie Walker" carry substance. The Washington Post article I cite highlights this.

L.L. Barkat March 3, 2009 at 2:32 PM  

I love it when you do my thinking for me. :)

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