Diageo plc’s Johnnie Walker was one of the world’s top scotch brands in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but blended scotch as a category was in long-term decline. Among distilled spirits, meanwhile, vodka was booming, largely as a result of effective youth-oriented marketing. Trying to shed a perception that scotch drinkers were stodgy, suit-wearing business types, JohnnieWalker in 1999 unveiled a global branding campaign called ‘‘Keep Walking’’ that continued to associate scotch drinking with success while widening the definition of success to appeal to young drinkers. The U.S. version of this campaign, which began in 2001, celebrated themaverick entrepreneurial ideas of the 1990s, but its message fell prey to changing perceptions of exactly such entrepreneurs following the dot-com crash and successive corporate scandals. In 2003 Johnnie Walker’s U.S. agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) of New York, set out to update ‘‘Keep Walking’’ to accommodate yet another definition of success.
The new installment of ‘‘Keep Walking,’’ which had a budget of approximately $15 million, focused on life as a journey and offered Johnnie Walker as a product that helped people navigate the uncertainties of that journey. The Striding Man logo, an image of an aristocratically dressed man in midstride, had been used in the campaign’s prior incarnations to represent the idea of personal progress; now the logo was used to suggest the determination required to weather the many obstacles and strange turns one encountered in life. The campaign’s print ads paired the Striding Man and the ‘‘Keep Walking’’ tagline with stories of individual career paths that had taken unpredictable turns, while outdoor executions featured the Striding Man as their central character, who was shown having emerged from difficulties represented by simple visual symbols, such as walls, rainclouds, and stock-market graphs.
BBH exceeded its goals of drawing attention to the Johnnie Walker brand and to the Striding Man as a brand icon. The update of ‘‘Keep Walking’’ won a Silver EFFIE Award in 2005. The concept behind the outdoor component of the campaign was extended in a subsequent series of print and outdoor ads launched in late 2004.
Blended scotch whiskey fell drastically out of favor among American consumers during the 1980s and 1990s, losing more than 20 percent of its sales volume as young people in particular turned to clear liquors. While vodka brands such as Absolut and, later, Grey Goose built up-to-date, premium product images that appealed to people in their twenties and thirties—high-volume consumers essential to the long-term health of any alcohol brand—scotch advertising on the whole did not keep pace with the times. Predictable appeals, such as using stereotypical Scottish imagery or connecting traditional ideas of business success with scotch drinking, were ineffective in communicating with young people.
Diageo’s Johnnie Walker attempted to remedy this image problem by turning, in 1999, to a global branding platform called ‘‘Keep Walking,’’ crafted by Bartle Bogle Hegarty of London. Featuring the Striding Man logo—an image of a walking man decked out in a top hat, boots, and cane, which made its first appearance on the Johnnie Walker bottle in 1909—‘‘Keep Walking’’ was meant to suggest the idea of personal progress; the perpetually walking figure signified the determination necessary to realize one’s dreams and goals. In print ads as well as TV spots such figures as Abraham Lincoln and the actor Harvey Keitel, as well as artists and philosophers, were employed to stress the long-established connection between success and scotch-drinking, but the campaign effectively broadened the definition of success to encapsulate worlds beyond the country clubs and private libraries of macho businessmen.
A U.S.-specific campaign running under the ‘‘Keep Walking’’ umbrella was launched in early 2001, at the height of enthusiasm regarding the so-called ‘‘new economy.’’ Print ads assuring consumers that ‘‘A simple idea can change the world’’ depicted napkins on which the big entrepreneurial ideas of the 1990s—like selling coffee for $4.95 or opening an online bookstore—were shown in embryonic form, sketched on cocktail napkins, matchbooks, and other scraps of paper. A corresponding online promotion offered entrepreneurs a shot at $500,000 in grant money to realize their own business dreams. In the wake of the dot-com crash, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and a wave of corporate scandals, however, the limitations of this inspirational, shoot-forthe-moon message became clear. Diageo enlisted its U.S. agency, the New York office of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, to further recast the ‘‘Keep Walking’’ idea in 2003.
Urban men aged 25 to 34 were Johnnie Walker’s primary target, but the 2003 update of the ‘‘KeepWalking’’ concept marked a key shift in the brand’s approach to this group. Previous installments of the campaign had been aimed at stimulating demand among the target group regardless of whether they already drank Johnnie Walker or, for that matter, scotch in general. The new version of ‘‘KeepWalking,’’ by contrast, was aimed at scotch drinkers who were already familiar with the brand. BBH New York sought to take advantage of the fact that most people chose their alcohol brands based on social factors; the agency felt that if those who occasionally drank Johnnie Walker could be encouraged to drink it regularly, then they would serve, ultimately, as brand representatives among their friends and acquaintances. By strategically narrowing the target market in this way, moreover, BBH was able to make better use of a limited advertising budget.
BBH believed that in a scandal-ridden, recession-era business world, it did not make sense to emphasize material riches exclusively. The agency found poll numbers suggesting that a large majority of young men would, if given the choice, prefer two extra weeks of vacation to a 10 percent raise in pay. The new installment of ‘‘Keep Walking,’’ then, emphasized life as a journey and offered models of success that were much more down-to-earth than those presented in the prerecession campaign of 2001. Gone were references to simple, world-altering ideas; in their place there appeared profiles of accomplished men, complete with references to the setbacks, humiliations, and unpredictable turns that characterized their paths to success. The Striding Man logo was transformed into a symbol of endurance rather than of simple inspiration.
‘‘Keep Walking’’ supported Johnnie Walker’s two blended scotches, its Red Label and Black Label products. Johnnie Walker Red was the more affordable and more popular of the two and was America’s second-leading scotch brand, behind Dewar’s. Johnnie Walker Black, the fourth-bestselling scotch in the United States at the time of the campaign’s launch, was a rival to premium brand Chivas Regal, then the country’s number five scotch. Dewar’s, like Johnnie Walker, was at this time attempting to update its image and appeal to a younger audience. In 2000 the brand changed its approach to print marketing, entering into advertising partnerships with a few strategically selected publications, rather than continuing to run ads in as many as 20 magazines at a time. One prominent Dewar’s partnership, with Men’s Journal, resulted in a 2003 project called ‘‘Conquer the Highlands,’’ an adventure story of two young men on an ‘‘extreme’’ tour of Scotland, which ran as a print insert described as an ‘‘advertorial,’’ meaning it was intentionally similar to the magazine’s content. This blurring of the boundaries between editorial and advertising content tested magazine-publishing conventions of the time. The theme was also adapted into a cable-television program, a one-hour adventure show that likewise mixed the two young men’s adventures with product placement. Rather than continuing to compete with vodka and other clear spirits for the youth market, Chivas Regal in 2003 instead began repositioning itself to appeal to an older male market. In a global ad campaign called ‘‘The Chivas Life,’’ the brand made no apologies for its luxury roots, celebrating bold life choices such as going ice fishing in Alaska, ‘‘crossing the room like you own it,’’ and embarking on a sailing trip, the destination of which was decided by throwing a dart.
Vodka, meanwhile, was the distilled-spirits industry’s fastest-growing market segment and one in which consumers’ purchasing choices, according to many observers, were almost exclusively tied to marketing and brand image. In the 1980s and 1990s Absolut vodka had risen from obscurity to become one of the hippest brands in the world and, ultimately, the number three distilled spirits brand in America, thanks to a long-running advertising campaign that turned the product’s bottle into an iconic, fashionable emblem. In the first few years of the new millennium, however, Absolut’s yearly sales growth could not keep pace with the vodka market at large, which was growing rapidly because of new designer brands such as Grey Goose. Using a taste-test platform whose findings were called into question from the start, together with aggressive marketing to bar owners, the Grey Goose brand grew faster, between 2000 and 2004, than any alcohol product in recent memory, becoming the vodka of choice for urban consumers of pricey specialty cocktails.
The new ‘‘Keep Walking’’ campaign had an estimated budget of $15 million and involved distinct print and outdoor components meant to accomplish different tasks. The ‘‘Journeys’’ print series, which featured profiles of men who had achieved success in unconventional ways, was meant to connect with consumers by making them evaluate their own conceptions of personal progress and by showing them that Johnnie Walker understood their lives. The outdoor portion of the campaign, called ‘‘Icons,’’ was less personal and more overt in its branding, showing the Striding Man continuing to move forward despite difficulties, which were represented by simple but suggestive graphics against a black background. The ‘‘Journeys’’ ads included ‘‘Bar,’’ which showed a young man standing behind the bar of his own cuttingedge drinking establishment. A horizontal yellow timeline cut across the image, with copy reading, chronologically across the page, ‘‘First Business Loan,’’ ‘‘Second Mortgage,’’ ‘‘Third Migraine,’’ and ‘‘Fourth Location.’’ Similarly, ‘‘Cave’’ summarized an unconventional career path, showing a rear view of a man who was standing at the mouth of a cave that opened on to the ocean. The copy keyed to the various stages of the timeline graphic read, ‘‘Discover Caving,’’ ‘‘Discover Perfect Cave,’’ ‘‘Discover Others Will Pay to Be Guided There,’’ and ‘‘Discover Perfect Job.’’ ‘‘Producer’’ depicted a preoccupied man sitting in front of an enormous audiomastering console. The story of his career path, as told via the accompanying timeline, was, ‘‘Terrible Guitarist,’’ ‘‘Incompetent Drummer,’’ ‘‘Laughable Lead Singer,’’ and ‘‘Double-Platinum Producer.’’ In each ad the Striding Man logo appeared above the ‘‘Keep Walking’’ tag at the far right end of the time line, suggesting the pictured individual’s determination.
The ‘‘Icons’’ ads sent similar messages, but through symbolic images rather than via individual profiles. For instance, the Striding Man was shown emerging from the precipitous valley of a stock market graph and climbing a slope indicating an upswing, a clear reference to the recent economic woes that had affected many among the Johnnie Walker target market. ‘‘Wall’’ depicted the Striding Man on the other side of a wall he had just walked through, and ‘‘Cloud’’ showed him continuing to walk after having weathered a rainstorm. In addition to point-of-service promotions, which linked imagery from the national campaign to retail displays of the product, the campaign included a less traditional element called a ‘‘Mentorship’’ program. The program involved sending E-mail invitations that directed Johnnie Walker drinkers to a website where they could register for social gatherings staged by the brand. These gatherings put the ‘‘mentors’’ in a position to spread their brand enthusiasm to Johnnie Walker neophytes.
BBH exceeded many of its goals for attracting attention to the Johnnie Walker brand. The agency met its goal of increasing awareness of the Striding Man as brand logo. Whereas only 22 percent of consumers were aware of the logo’s connection to Johnnie Walker before the campaign ran, 50 percent made the connection after the ads had been running for three months. While BBH had not staked the value of its campaign, which was more concerned with building brand equity and identity, on its capacity to generate immediate sales increases, a comparison of sales figures from the same three-month period the previous year showed a dollar-sales increase of 3.7 percent and a volume-sales increase of 3 percent. The campaign was awarded a Silver EFFIE Award in 2005. The concept behind the ‘‘Icons’’ outdoor ads was extended in a print and outdoor campaign thatwas launched in late 2004, in which the Striding Man was shown, as before, against a black background, having successfully endured an obstacle represented by symbolic graphics. More than 50 such adswere generated, and each was tailored to its medium, the timing of its appearance, or (in the case of outdoor placements) its physical location. The ‘‘Keep Walking’’ tagline and the Striding Man logo remained Johnnie Walker’s controlling umbrella concepts in subsequent advertising both globally and in the United States.