Johnnie Walker Embraces Feminine Side to Woo Women Drinkers
By Saabira Chaudhuri
Diageo PLC plans to roll out a female-branded version of its Johnnie Walker scotch brand called Jane Walker, the latest move by the liquor giant to woo female drinkers.
Diageo, the world's biggest spirits maker, on Monday said Jane Walker, a limited-edition version of Johnnie Walker black label, will go on sale starting next month. The company, which also owns Smirnoff vodka and Bulleit bourbon, has revamped the iconic Johnnie Walker logo for the first time in over a century to show a woman in boots mid-stride tipping her hat.
The marketing stunt comes on the heels of a Diageo campaign called #LoveScotch, which has splashed pictures of attractive young women drinking Scotch together across billboards, social media and magazines in dozens of countries.
"We realized we should be successfully and actively marketing to women," said Diageo's chief marketing officer, Syl Saller, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last year. "That's been really positive for us particularly in categories that would have been considered more masculine, like scotch."
The share of U.S. whiskey drinkers who are women ticked up to 29.6% in 2016 from 28.2% in 2010, according to Nielsen.
"As whiskeys have expanded and experimented with new flavors, such as honey, maple, cinnamon and apple, it has helped attract more women to the drink," said Danny Brager, who heads Nielsen's U.S. beverage alcohol practice.
The female-branded Johnnie Walker bottle will be available across the U.S. at $34 for a 750 mL (about 25 oz) bottle, the same price as the regular Johnnie Walker black label.
Johnnie Walker for decades marketed its scotch mainly to men. A 1988 ad for the scotch brand reads: "He loves my mind. And he drinks Johnnie Walker." The caption was incongruously accompanied by a picture of the backs of two women in bikinis on a beach.
"They were ignoring the key money spenders and decision makers," said Izzy Pugh, a cultural insight director at London-based creative marketing consultancy Kantar Added Value who has advised Diageo on its marketing. The spirits maker subsequently found that women are in charge of 80% of disposable income, said Ms. Pugh.
In recent years, Diageo has shifted gears to make its products more attractive to women. "The way we do that is not by making things pink. It is by being very inclusive in our communications, targeting women and men with our communications," said Ms. Saller.
To develop its Haig Club whisky brand, Diageo in 2014 teamed up with David Beckham, after research showed the footballer appealed to both men and women. A recent TV ad for Haig Club, narrated by a woman, rattles off the rules dictating how whisky should be drunk, including that "whisky is a man's drink." The accompanying images show both men and women drinking whisky.
Diageo a few years ago began using Christina Hendricks -- who played secretary Joan in TV show "Mad Men" -- as its Johnnie Walker ambassador. The company has also taken a more grass roots approach, partnering with groups like Women Who Whiskey -- which describes itself as an experimental whiskey club for women -- to sponsor whiskey and food pairings for brands like Bulleit bourbon.
Julia Ritz Toffoli, who founded Women Who Whiskey in New York in 2011, has worked with other whiskey makers like William Grant & Sons Distillers Ltd. and Brown-Forman Corp. on similar events. "They're really trying to include women in their programming," she said.
Beam Suntory Inc. last summer sent out Facebook posts marketing its Maker's Mark bourbon for Mother's Day saying "Lasts longer than flowers. (Maybe.)."
The alcohol industry's new focus on women isn't uncontroversial. Public-health researchers and campaigners point to physiological differences that make women more vulnerable to harm from alcohol consumption than men.
Women the same size and weight as men are more likely to become drunk off the same amount of booze because female bodies have more fat and less water, according to the National Institutes of Health. This means alcohol produces a higher blood alcohol level in women than in men.
"We have to be very careful not to stigmatize women but they do have different risks and they need to be highlighted," says Suzanne Costello, chief executive of Dublin-based nonprofit Alcohol Action Ireland. "The impact of alcohol is harder on women than men but people have forgotten that."
Diageo said for every Jane Walker bottle sold, it would donate $1 to organizations championing women's causes, up to $250,000.
There will be advertising support in print publications such as the New Yorker and Time magazine. The brand will also feature at events such as the coming Women In Film Pre-Oscar Party, toasting all female Oscar nominees.
Write to Saabira Chaudhuri at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 26, 2018 15:59 ET (20:59 GMT)Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.