Who would've guessed Johnnie Walker's epic trek would lead to the artsy, minimalist campaign the Diageo brand began rolling out this week?
The brand's famous cinematic storylines are out, replaced by :15s that mix traditional elements (the "striding man" figure and iconic Johnnie Walker bottle) with elusive, vaguely Lynchian imagery, such as hands squeezing lemon juice into cocktails:
Another round, Agent Cooper?
The work ushers in "a new era for Johnnie Walker," says Diageo North America svp of whiskies Sophie Kelly. Whisky is the fastest-growing segment of the spirits category. Indeed, Johnnie Walker grew 9 percent in North America during fiscal 2019, and this campaign represents an attempt to maintain that momentum.
It's an invitation for new whisky dinners—largely "millennial, multicultural and female"—to enter the world of Johnnie Walker, Kelly says. "We have created a dynamic visual world, and we believe this work invites people into a more vibrant, edgy, evocative world of Scotch."
The new brand aesthetic flows onto billboards, print and bus shelters ads:
Smooooth stuff, though the wording of that last headline—"You don't drink Johnnie Walker. You take Johnnie Walker"—begs the question of what it means to "take" Johnnie Walker.
"You don't shoot Johnnie Walker, you don't chug Johnnie Walker, you don't forget Johnnie Walker," Kelly says. "It's an experience, not just a drink. It's a challenge."
The brand also worked with Giant Spoon—the agency behind high-profile experiential campaigns like HBO's lauded SXSWestworld—to create a traveling live experience called the Johnnie Walker Cocktail Grocer, a recreation of the original store where the whisky was born some 200 years ago.
The pop-up will visit events across the country, including the Tropicalia Festival in California this weekend, EEEEEATSCON in Los Angeles and New York's Tribeca Film Festival.
"This experience is not just a nod to our heritage," Kelly says. "By showing up in places where people aren't used to enjoying Scotch, and offering unique Scotch they may not have tried—all within a visually immersive world—we are breaking the notion that Scotch has to be a heavy, quiet, warm moment."
All in all, it's an intriguing campaign that attempts to mix brand history with funky design cues and attitude. There's nothing wrong with adding a twist, freshening the drink, as it were. It remains to be seen whether getting "edgy" will be a step forward for this category leader.
"In the past, we have been very precious with our brand, but this new identity is all about letting our icons off the leash and creating a highly visual, always-in-motion feeling around our assets and products," Kelly says. "Our products are coming to life through provocative metaphors that are suggestive of the experience you will have. Our hero drinks encourage people to be less precious with Johnnie Walker and enjoy our amazing blends in more ways and in more moments."
Anomaly has worked with the brand since 2015. Its previous efforts have included Jude Law's quick-cut meditation on joy from that year; a memorable road trip across America during the 2016 presidential election touting diversity with a spoken-word take on "This Land Is Your Land"; and last year's "Jane Walker" campaign and limited editions celebrating gender equality.
Those efforts helped refocus and refine the brand's "Keep Walking" mantra.
They followed BBH London's stewardship of the brand, which was renowned for its narrative storytelling. Such work included 2009's "The Man Who Walked Around the World" (the famous five-minute exploration of the brand's history starring Robert Carlyle) and "The Next Step," made five years later, in which a man's hopes for the future spring to life as he takes a stroll on New Year's Eve.
Agencies: Anomaly, Giant Spoon
Photography and video direction: Scottie Cameron, Polly Brown
Motion design partner: DIA