A great article in the current issue of Foreign Policy on the massive global expansion of the Johnnie Walker brand, as expressed in this beautiful TV spot for the Mexican market.
After nearly 20 years of financial setbacks, the middle class in Mexico is thriving. Discretionary income is up, migration is at net zero, they’ve been upgraded by Standard & Poors and they’re starting to be taken seriously in the bond market. And what brand expresses that upward mobility perfectly? Johnnie Walker and their “Keep Walking, Mexico” tag line.
And in Africa, the newest gold mine of emerging markets, Diageo is cultivating a fresh generation of whisky drinkers. In downtown Nairobi, a 20-story billboard of the Striding Man towers alongside a skyscraper. African musicians and athletes have been named “brand ambassadors,” and premium magazines are running a series of print ads that say simply: “Step Up.” As in, step up to a better life, step up to the middle class, step up from that stale beer to a higher state of being: Become a whisky drinker. The print advertisement hawks Red Label, the brand’s cheapest distillation (a favorite of Winston Churchill, with soda) and the presumptive first step in Johnnie Walker’s color-coded upward journey through Black, Green, and Gold labels toward that nirvana of prestige: Blue Label.
The campaign seems to be working. Johnnie Walker sales are up 38 percent in East Africa and 33 percent in South Africa, and Diageo is doubling down, investing $368 million to expand operations in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest market.
This is a classic example of experience marketing, where you appeal to the population’s aspirational values by giving them the chance to express themselves by what they drink. And Johnny Walker delivers. Of course, the product has to deliver, not just the advertising. But when it does, it quenches a global thirst to be part of the marketplace of commerce and ideas, instead of looking in from the outside. This is particularly true in educated, largely English-speaking middle classs.
Today, Diageo (the giant, global beverage company) is walking toward India and the acquisition of United Spirits, the country’s largest alcoholic drinks firm, with 60 percent of the market. In July, it acquired a 25 percent stake in the company, and it aims to own more than half. Indians consume more whiskey than any other country in the world, and the distribution network Diageo would get with the purchase of United Spirits is akin to a raw materials producer gaining access to internal rail networks or shipping ports. Diageo has also acquired Brazil’s Ypioca, the third-largest producer of cachaca, the popular sugar-cane-based spirit that adds the kick to caipirinhas from Sao Paulo to San Diego. It also recently had its eyes on Mexico’s Jose Cuervo, the world’s top-selling tequila-maker.
China is the big prize, though. There alone the middle class has grown to some 350 million people. According to consulting firm Ernst & Young, by 2030 China could see 1 billion people in the middle class — some 70 percent of its projected population. And they’ll be toasting to their success: The market research company Euromonitor International predicts that China alone will contribute 50 percent of the volume growth of the spirits industry in coming years. China is already the world’s largest spirits market, followed by Russia and then India, though the South Asian giant will move into the second spot this year, according to industry estimates.
It doesn’t hurt that Diageo as brilliant ad creators, as shown in this most brilliant of videos, starring actor Robert Carlyle. Note the impeccable timing of the one shot action.