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Diageo Debuts New Global Campaign Touting Johnnie Walker’s Upscale Tiers

October 30, 2014

Diageo is backing its Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky brand with an ambitious new global advertising campaign focused on four of the brand’s upscale expressions. Titled “Character,” Johnnie Walker’s new positioning highlights its Blue, Gold Label Reserve, Double Black and Black whiskies with spots that take their inspiration directly from the liquids themselves. The campaign follows up on the brand’s recent release of an online film, “The Gentleman’s Wager,” which stars Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini and has received more than 30 million views, according to the company. The new global push was created by New York-based Anomaly.

While Johnnie Walker Blue ($225) and Johnnie Walker Black ($35) have long been anchors in the brand’s lineup, Double Black and Gold Reserve are newer to the fold. Over the past year, Diageo has sought to boost the presence of Double Black ($45), a smokier whisky that originally debuted in the U.S. in 2011. Gold Label Reserve ($80), meanwhile, has been launching stateside this year. It’s described as a lighter and creamier variant that the company is recommending be served with soda over crushed ice.

According to Impact Databank, Johnnie Walker is the world’s number-one spirits brand by retail value at $5.8 billion in 2013. It was flat at 19.7 million cases globally last year, but remains more than three times the size of second-ranked Scotch label Ballantine’s, owned by Pernod Ricard. In the U.S. market, Johnnie Walker was up 0.7% to 1.7 million cases last year, and has a roughly half-million-case lead in the segment over second-ranked Dewar’s.

Lately, Johnnie Walker’s U.S. growth has picked up at the high end of the range. “Our Johnnie Walker super deluxe business is up substantially (in North America),” Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes said in a recent conference call to investors. “We’ve had a terrific run on Blue Label, Platinum and Gold Reserve—very strong double-digit growth there.”

Even as it boosts promotional activity behind Johnnie Walker, Diageo is acknowledging a general slowdown in the global blended Scotch segment. In recent days, the drinks giant has confirmed that it is reviewing and adjusting the timing of its $1.5 billion Scotch whisky investment program, announced in 2012, to align its supply investments with growth in demand. The company hasn’t divulged the specific projects affected, but the U.K.’s Times newspaper has reported that upgrades at its Teaninich, Mortlach and Clynelish distilleries have been put on hold. After adding more than 20 million cases to their total from 2005-2011, Scotch exports’ progress has slowed the past two years. The category’s global volume inched up 0.5% to 84.1 million cases in 2013.

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