Claire Beale on Advertising: BBH’s hot-toddy for ailing Johnnie Walker

Johnnie wasn’t well. Really, quite yellow. He was old, but this is one business where age is quality. Still, after 180 years he was going downhill pretty fast and the prognosis was bad.

A decade ago Johnnie Walker was on the critical list. The world’s biggest-selling whisky brand was losing market share and confidence. Then he got an advertising makeover. It was so successful, last week he became poster boy for the power of advertising to revive a business.

Johnnie Walker has scooped the top gong at the advertising industry’s Effectiveness Awards and catapulted the transformational potency of advertising into the headlines. As adland hurtles towards recession, it needs headlines like this; stories like Johnnie Walker’s could be advertising’s restorative.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s advertising turned Johnnie Walker from a tired old boy with an identity crisis (in Europe he was comfy slippers and roaring fires, in Latin America a party drink mixer, in Asia a status symbol) into a global icon.

You probably won’t have seen much of the advertising that has restored the whisky to health; the focus has been an international one. Check out to see the work. It’s beautiful.

But the effectiveness of the story is about more than creating lush, cut-through advertising. First BBH had to identify why JW was on the slide. The brand had no consistent marketing strategy and budgets were stretched too thinly across disparate initiatives. What Johnnie needed was to stand for something, an ideal that customers could embrace that elevated the brand beyond simply a drink, towards a statement.

Johnnie Walker had to become an icon brand. Yes, we’re about to enter the world of advertising jargon, where brands have personalities and emotive symbolism. Bear with me, because this stuff works.

The experts will tell you there are three key ingredients in the brand icon blend: first, obviously, a universally recognised symbol or icon that is always attached to your brand. In Johnnie Walker’s case that’s the yellow bloke with the top hat and cane. But icon brands also need resonance, a set of fundamental values that have meaning to people. And they need to embody ideals that help people express who they want to be.

See the Nike swoosh logo and you think of training shoes or football boots, but you also think of encouragement, incitement, energy. The silver apple icon means ipods and laptops, but it also means challenging the norm, creativity, being different. So what did old Johnnie Walker stand for? Nothing with any clarity. Finding that identity the challenge.

Whisky has always been associated with masculine success but over the last few years men’s definition of success has shifted. Now it has little to do with wealth or ostentatious displays of status. Success now means striving to become a better man, it’s about self-improvement, change and progress.

Unlocking that truth and aligning the sentiment with the JW brand through searing creative work based on the Keep Walking thought won BBH what is arguably adland’s most valuable award. Being the agency that best proves the effectiveness of its work is perhaps the best calling card in the industry.

Big brands that absolutely understand the value of advertising are already trimming their marketing spend. Last week Marks & Spencer, winner of the 2006 Effectiveness Grand Prix award for an advertising strategy that had its products “flying off the shelves”, announced it was slashing its marketing spend by 20 per cent. Marketers are under intense pressure to prove their value.

What stories like Johnnie Walker’s shows, though, is that the right marketing strategy, sustained and developed over time, is not a cost, it’s an investment. Since it launched at the turn of the century, BBH’s campaign has grown sales of the whisky by 48 per cent, delivering $2.21bn (£1.4bn) of incremental sales. Surely that’s worth taking a long-term view for.

Best in show: VOLKSWAGEN (DDB)

Not all really effective advertising – the work that actually sells things – would stand much chance in adland’s numerous creative beauty pageants. Effectiveness and creativity are not often comfy bedfellows.

And not many clients are patient enough to see their advertising partnership as a long term investment, working with the same agency over the long haul to really get it right.

Yet after a remarkable 40 years together, VW and its ad agency DDB have honed a winning blend of brilliant advertising creativity that has a demonstrable effect on sales.

I’d bet the latest ad will do the same. It’s for the Volkswagen Tiguan and stars Walter, an unlikely driving instructor from America’s deep south whose students always pass their driving test. His secret? His Tiguan, which is “simply effortless to drive”.

Real product point; flawless directing; the familiar VW humour. Here’s to another 40 years

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own