Johnnie Walker is one of the few brands that has nearly developed a method of brand development and its legacy has lasted for over 200 years.
One of the most important, and maybe the most challenging, aspects of marketing is brand image. It takes years to develop a brand image that costs a million, if not a billion dollars. And, if not done correctly, it has the potential to destroy a century-old business. And, especially in the business world, brand image is so important that it can actually make or ruin your company.
However, Johnnie Walker is one of the few brands that has nearly developed a method of brand development and its legacy has lasted for over 200 years. This legacy makes Johnnie Walker a marketing masterpiece to learn from What started out as an obsession for consistent tasting whiskey by a grocery boy then went on to become a business empire that has spanned for 4 generations and scaled across 180 countries.
However, after 150 years as the most renowned whiskey brand in the world, at the end of the twentieth century, Johnnie Walker confronted one of the most severe difficulties encountered by any age-old business: identity crisis. However, the way they handled the situation offered the world an invaluable lesson in branding.
Johnnie walker Case Study: The Alarming Bells
This is a narrative that began in 1999, when Johnnie Walker experienced a 14 percent drop in sales in only three years. When the board looked further to find out what was wrong, they learned that Johnnie Walker had 27 campaigns operating all over the world. Each of these advertisements conveyed a distinct message, and the brand did not have a strong image of itself. Aside from that, the 1980s and 1990s saw a surge in the popularity of wine and vodka. And the popularity of whiskey as a drink has plummeted among American consumers. And this megatrend resulted in a 20% drop in whiskey sales volume.
This is when Diageo, Johnnie Walker’s parent company, came in and assembled an incredible team of marketers to figure out how to revitalise the brand and develop a brand value that can stand strong in the current day. And do you know what? The advertising they created proved to be so successful that it transformed Johnny Walker into a $2.2 billion brand in just 15 years. Not only that, but Johnnie Walker’s chants grew so famous that they became a part of the pro-democracy demonstration.
What was so remarkable about this ad, and how did a whiskey phrase spawn a protest slogan? The answer may be found in the exhaustive market research conducted by Johnnie Walker marketing professionals. After conducting a thorough study, they discovered three significant issues with the brand. Because number one whiskey was perceived as an old man’s drink, the young did not connect with any whiskey brand in general.
Second, because they had 27 commercials running concurrently all over the world, each one having a distinct message, no one had a clear understanding of what exactly Johnnie Walker’s brand identity is. For example, everyone knows that Nike is all about being fearless and striving for excellence. Apple is all about being unique and innovative, whereas Tesla is all about the future and becoming green. However, Johnnie Walker had nothing substantial to do with it. Third, and most significantly, the story-line of the marketing message was entirely self-centered, bordering on boasting. It was all about ‘We, the Johnnie Walker, are the world’s most honoured scotch.’
The Plan of Action
And this narrative developed a disconnect with the audience. So, Johnnie Walker’s marketers took three bold actions that transformed the brand for the rest of the globe. First and foremost, they cancelled all of their campaigns and assembled a team dedicated solely to delivering a single core message. And they suggested that instead of trying to please everyone, we should stick to our fundamental principles and appeal to a small group of individuals who believe in what we believe.
Second, instead of the original cartoon character that was full of personality, humor, and charm, they chose to reconstruct it into something more modern, something more minimalist and streamlined. This was done just so that it could appeal to a younger audience. And last and most importantly, the most crucial step that they took was to change the narrative of the marketing message. That is, instead of talking about themselves they said, ‘Let’s talk about you, the customers.’ Instead of coming out with their own ideas and assumptions about masculinity they directly went and spoke to their ideal customers that is, men of the age of 25-35.
This was a massive survey that was done all around the world in order to determine what their audience’s definition of success is. And this provided them with a great insight. While most companies believe that materialistic success, such as owning a flashy automobile or living a lavish lifestyle, this is not the case. The marketers at Johnnie Walker realized that it was the inside sense of development, the inner confidence, that their clients appreciated the most, not the exterior achievement. And the fact that whiskey was an incarnation of a man’s personality, and they always wanted to hold on to something that reflected what they genuinely believed in.
Comeback to Keep Walking
All this tracked back to one important marketing strategy: keep walking despite the hurdles. That, ladies and gents, is what influenced the classic ‘Keep Walking’ campaign. And this advertising didn’t say anything about whiskey; instead, it was all about the consumers. Rather than stating, “We are the most awarded scotch. We have a 100-year history.’ ‘If you have the spirit to deal with the challenges of your life If you believe in reaching glory despite the hazards,’ read their marketing pitch. If you are committed towards becoming a best self of yourself every day. Let us be your companion to keep you walking. Johnny Walker, keep walking.’
And they featured the stories of great individuals like Lincoln’s quote in the print magazine to depict the fact that Lincoln kept walking in spite of all the obstacles in life only to become a legendary president. In media, they featured the great footballer Roberto Baggio wherein he overcame his nightmare of missing the penalty at the 1994 World Cup final. Soon enough the campaign was on fire within the next few years Johnnie Walker went from having a sales decline to seeing a tremendous sales increase by huge numbers. In the next 15 years, they increased sales by 100%, selling 19 million 9-liter cases comparing to 10 million in 1999.
The Re-Introduction of Johnnie Walker Whiskey to the New Era
That’s how Johnnie Walker created a legacy in advertising, ever since, they have continually introduced fresh adaptations of their ‘Keep Walking’ campaign. And these campaigns range all the way from topical to historic events just so that they could keep striking a cord with the audience. One of the ‘Keep Walking’ campaigns featured in Brazil in 2011 had become such an emblem of endurance and resolve that when the Brazil protests emerged in 2013, people have changed the “Keep Walking” slogan to “Keep Fighting” and conducted it to express their commitment to accomplish change.
Aside from the fashionable image, Johnnie Walker is so eager to embrace new age marketing tactics that they were among the first spirit firms to discover with social networking sites and influencers marketing strategies. And this action demonstrates how much they have learned as a brand from their own failures. There are three extremely crucial lessons to be drawn from this Johnnie Walker case study. First and foremost, perceived worth is undervalued. If you take a step back, you’ll notice that I didn’t say anything at all about how Johnnie Walker was attempting to make its whiskey taste better or smoother.
The entire turnaround was brought along, not because Johnnie Walker tasted better because it’s still the exact same whiskey served in the exact same bottle that was sold 100 years back. The one and only thing that has changed was the tale of the brand which eventually turned the tables and earned a billion dollars. No brand is too big to falter. You might have a 200 year old legacy, you might be spread across 180 countries but if you do not pay attention to the fundamental truths of consumer perception it is only a matter of time that you’d go from an icon to being a forgotten icon. Unfortunately, Old Monk is a standing example of the same.
Message from this Case Study
And last and most importantly every marketeer needs to understand that every consumer, knowingly or unknowingly looks for a product that is an embodiment of his/her own personality. And the marketeer’s mission is to not tell tales of the brand, but of the purchaser itself, since, at the end of the day, the perception of a brand is nothing more than a reflective thinking of the purchaser’s persona. As a result, the tale should always be about the client rather than the firm. Johnnie Walker offered the world a fantastic marketing lesson on how to create an immortal brand.