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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, Johnnie Walker 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 the maverick 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, match-books, 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-for-the-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 "Keep Walking" 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 "Keep Walking," 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-best-selling 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,"...