SCOTLAND’S biggest brand is coming home after Diageo unveiled a £7.2 million domestic marketing campaign for Johnnie Walker Red Label.
The blended whisky – which has been at the vanguard of Diageo’s push into emerging markets such as China and Latin America – already accounts for more than half of the 20 million cases of Johnnie Walker sold globally.
Now the export brand is about to be pushed in the UK and will feature in cinema, magazine and television advertisements under the tagline “Where Flavour is King”. The adverts will mark the first time Johnnie Walker has appeared on UK TV screens since the 1960s.
Diageo, which is Scotland’s largest distiller, is hoping that Red Label will breathe fresh life into the UK’s struggling whisky market, where demand has been falling in recent years.
The FTSE 100 group is understood to have chosen Red Label for its British push because the whisky is marketed as a premium blend and so is not expected to cannibalise sales of its cheaper Scotches, such as Bell’s.
Johnnie Walker has enjoyed stellar success abroad and has been ranked by The Spirits Business magazine as the world’s best-selling Scotch whisky, with its 19.7 million cases eclipsing the 5.8 million sold by Ballantine’s and 4.8 million by Chivas Regal, both brands owned by arch rival Pernod Ricard.
Yet the range has not enjoyed the same success in its home market, with Scottish Licensed Trade News ranking Johnnie Walker as only the 58th highest-selling brand in the on-trade north of the Border, lagging behind fellow blended whiskies such as The Famous Grouse, Whyte & Mackay and Bell’s.
Gavin Pike, Johnnie Walker global brand director, said that Red Label was the brand that John Walker – the whisky’s creator – began selling from his grocer’s shop in Kilmarnock in 1820.
“Johnnie Walker Red Label is our original ‘pioneer’, a ground-breaking whisky,” Pike said. “The UK campaign builds on that great story of progress and aims to inspire a new generation of UK consumers to discover Johnnie Walker and Scotch whisky.”
The drink will be aimed at 25-35 year olds who have already developed a taste for American bourbon or Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey. Ginger ale will be promoted as its mixer.
Diageo – which issues its first-quarter trading update on Thursday – has hired three extra “brand ambassadors” to promote the drink in bars and clubs.
But Jonny Forsyth, a global drinks analyst at market research firm Mintel, told The Scotsman that Diageo faces an up-hill challenge.
“A lot of younger drinkers will think of Johnnie Walker as their dad’s or grandad’s drink and so Diageo will have to convince them it’s not,” Forsyth said. “Jack Daniel’s has been in this market for decades and is reaping the rewards.
“Scotch whisky producers are at a disadvantage because they can’t add flavouring to their products, like Jack Daniel’s has done with honey. Perhaps Diageo might look at producing Johnnie Walker ready mixed in cans.”
Susanna Freedman, head of brand at Emperor Design, added: “One of the problems Johnnie Walker could face is that it’s perceived as a big global corporate brand, rather than as a craft producer like a lot of distilleries.”