Dead on Arrival: Jane Walker Scotch
Steve’s breakdown: This blunder is enough to just review the entire account!!
The quote by Johnnie Walker vice president Stephanie Jacoby tells you everything: “Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women. … It’s a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand.”
We got questions: Since when are women intimidated by a beverage? And they couldn’t find a name people actually use? And they couldn’t find a name with 2 syllables like Johnny? And why is the “Jane” in the ad smaller than the “Johnny”? And lastly, can somebody please get in there and fix this?
Check out what the Late Show thought about this move as well as Forbes below the video..
NORWALK, CT: Diageo, which owns Johnnie Walker, has announced that the brand will begin selling a limited-edition run of 250,000 bottles in March that feature a top-hat-wearing “Jane Walker,” in an effort to appeal more to women.
This seems like a highly risky idea, and a potentially offensive one to boot.
Bloomberg quotes Johnnie Walker vice president Stephanie Jacoby as saying: “Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women. … It’s a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand.”
It seems to me this accomplishes exactly the opposite of the ostensible goal of the campaign. Indeed, it does little more than cynically reduce the incredibly varied range of potential female Johnnie Walker customers to a monolith whose main point of hesitation in not having previously poured themselves a dram or two has been the lack of female representation on the label.
Of course, this is part of a larger movement in American consumer culture to segment the buying public to the point of pixellation, with each and every individual potential group catered to as far as possible in an effort to get its business. There’s nothing necessarily and inherently wrong with this, but the risk is that brands fall into the marketing equivalent of a black hole, from which even potentially sound ideas cannot survive unbent into something wholly unrecognizable and possibly offensive.
The goal, of course, is quite the opposite. “The impetus around the launch is aimed at bringing more female icons to the forefront of culture,” Jacoby explained in an email. “Johnnie Walker is a brand that has celebrated and championed progress, and through our Keep Walking America campaign initiative (launched in 2016), we are spotlighting those who are positively contributing to our society, and certainly women are doing this every day.”
She continued: “With the introduction of Johnnie Walker Black Label The Jane Walker Edition, we are also introducing the first-ever female iteration of the brand’s iconic Striding Man logo, Jane Walker. Jane Walker is a celebration of the many achievements of women on the journey towards progress in gender equality. For each bottle produced, the brand has committed $1 to like-minded organizations championing women’s causes, such as Monumental Women.”
All of this sounds great, but aside from the charitable donations, I’m not convinced that the introduction of Jane Walker is a good move.
According to January 2018 numbers from Nielsen Spectra, women represent 29% of Scotch buyers and are responsible for 24% of Scotch sales by volume, which means that there is significant upside in finding a way to sell more Scotch to more women. But if there is a backlash against how this particular campaign goes about that, the risks are substantial.
“I have not seen any quantitative or qualitative data that show whisky-drinking women will respond positively to this type of branding,” spirits expert and author Heather Greene said in an email, adding: “Women don’t want to be separated into this kind of silo. The trick is include them in on the conversation — and quite frankly this does the opposite.”
Greene noted that, based on her “thousands of tastings and working in the industry, this is a risky route. I wouldn’t advise brands to take this tactic to recruit women right now.”
Remember the short-lived attempt by Doritos to make and market chips for woman? The backlash was swift and thorough. And deservedly so, because it was a product based on an image of women that was outdated generations ago. I look at my wife, my sister, my mother and my daughters, and none of them would ever — as I imagine the marketing geniuses behind the chips pictured American women everywhere doing — daintily lift the backs of their hands to their powdered brows and proclaim shock at the too-loud crunch of the original Doritos chip, and how the cheese powder stains their manicures, as if they’re all extras on some toxic remake of Designing Women.
Problems arise, and potential brand damage can be done, when products start pandering to a specific yet paradoxically overly broad demographic. With “Jane Walker,” the issues seem to be fairly obvious: Not all women are the same, with universally shared motivations and consumer habits. Some women like Pinot Grigio, and some prefer Amarone; some wake up with tea, and others with unsweetened espresso. I know women who prefer cosmos and others who wouldn’t dream of drinking them, opting instead for straight vodka or an old-fashioned or a shot of Jack Daniel’s.
This hits home for me as the husband of a wonderfully strong woman and the father of two young daughters. My wife, for example, loves Scotch and bourbon and rye. Indeed, whenever I return home from a work trip, I know a number of bottles will be several ounces lighter. And amazingly — shockingly! — she doesn’t base what she pours into her glass once our daughters are asleep on how pretty or female-friendly the label is, but rather on what she’s in the mood for: something smoky, or sweet, or spicy. Because as a sentient human being with a well-developed sense of self and taste, she is capable of enjoying a drink based on the merits of the liquid inside the bottle, not the marketing ploy gracing its label.
It’s an awfully slippery slope, this focus on gender that quickly devolves into antiquated images of what motivates women to choose one product over another.
Instead of the packaging of whisky, Greene would prefer to see the focus on increasing the role of women in the production of whiskies. “I am happy to see changes, but I will be supporting brands that have a more proven track-record when it comes to women distillers, master blenders or founders behind them,” she said. “There are plenty of them, and I want to reward them with my dollars. That doesn’t mean I don’t support great male-fronted and -made brands. I merely want more time from them to prove a commitment when they try to market to me. Let’s run up the score for the brands that have had some amazing female whiskey makers or blenders and let them shine for a minute.”
She added: “This is the single biggest attempt by a liquor brand to recruit women that I’ve seen since the autumn, when women showed that we’ve obviously got some cultural worth — even though the dollars have shown us to be tremendous consumers for a while now. I will be watching carefully to see how the consumer responds.”
The company is taking positive steps. Jacoby said that Diageo’s board would be 50% women by April and that the company would like to see at least one female director as part of any work pitch by an advertising agency, according to the Bloomberg article.
That’s an excellent start, and it’s heartening that the company is doing more than just rolling out a quarter-million bottles of Jane Walker; Diageodeserves praise for those particular efforts. And Diageo isn’t entirely wrong: There are certainly women (and men) out there who may very well try a glass of Johnnie Walker because they see the Jane Walker bottle glimmering on a shelf behind the bar.
But I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s an awfully small subset of drinkers. And when the VP of the brand says that Scotch is seen as intimidating by women, I have to take issue with that: Scotch is intimidating to most everyone, not just women.
From the Highlands and Speyside to Islay and Campbeltown, Scotch whisky is a complex and rich area of study that can tell us just as much about geography and culture as it does language, history and, yes, taste. But that information is seemingly infinite, and often quite daunting. That’s not gender-specific; that’s Scotch-whisky specific. To claim otherwise is insulting to women — and, honestly, to all people, regardless of gender — everywhere.