Wed, 22 Feb 2023 06:49:04 GMT
Only one in every 10,000 of the rarest and most exceptional casks in its whisky reserves is selected for a Johnnie Walker Blue Label. The standard upheld by Johnnie Walker’s master blenders speaks of a brand that is associated with an uncompromising quality for progressive lifestyles and tastes.
In Asia Pacific, the brand is valued for its social currency, which opens up opportunities to lifestyle experiences that come with a sense of belonging to a progressive social class. Particularly in highly developed whiskey markets such as Taiwan and other parts of Southeast Asia, Johnnie Walker has enjoyed brand recognition among an emerging middle class.
Johnnie Walker’s global marketing and innovation director João Teodoro de Matos (above) recently travelled to Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and Philippines to review the local strategic plans, particularly the acceleration of Blue Label – the crown jewel of the Walker house. He observes, “The emerging affluent class in many of these East Asian markets is enjoying a rise in social status and connections, and whisky drinking is providing this social connect. It has become almost like a social currency to this demographic.” He adds that Taiwan is one of the most developed whiskey markets in the world, while in Vietnam, consumers with the means go directly to the premium high-end segment, making it a very exciting market to be active in.
Across Southeast Asia, the brand is building an intimate community of boundary-pushers from the worlds of fashion, cuisine, art and even business. These forward-thinkers are brought together at brand events to share their experiences and points of view on where and how progress needs to happen.
A recent example of this is a Johnnie Walker Blue Label Dinner held at 28 Wilkie in Singapore, hosted by Chef Seth Lai – one of the youngest Michelin star chefs in the region. Leading influencers were invited for a unique gastronomic experience and the opportunity to talk about innovation and progress in the region, with attendees including Thai artist Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang, Vietnamese fashion, beauty and travel influencer Chloe Nguyen, and Philippines’ DJ, toy & sneaker collector and art connoisseur Bigboy Cheng.
Amidst the landscape of premium whiskey brands in Asia Pacific, Johnnie Walker’s brand persona stands out. It is young and vibrant and on-trend. It is not limited to the serious drinker in a whisky room who indulges in history lessons on whisky-making. It is not about castles, kilts and other iconography typically associated with Scotch whisky. It is also definitely not about the high-net-worth individual living a luxury lifestyle. It is more about ‘influence’ rather than ‘affluence’; and ‘progressive lifestyle’ rather than ‘luxurious lifestyle’.
Younger generations define ‘success’ and ‘luxury’ differently, and Johnnie Walker’s campaigns and brand activations have reflected that shift simultaneously.
What does the brand mean for consumers in Asia Pacific? “We're a brand that stands for progress, and we have been adapting to what the world needs in different times,” says João. “Johnnie Walker is a story that has much more to be revealed, especially to the younger generations.”
“What do we mean by ‘to stand for progress’? It means that in each market, we take a close look to uncover people who push the boundaries in their lives and in their work – how they make a difference to society. Whether it’s in the art, fashion or sports scenes, we identify these individuals and we express our brand purpose through them. They then provide the canvas on which our brand takes shape,” shares João.
João adds that Johnnie Walker works with influencers and change makers who embody the spirit of its brand. “We collaborated with progressive change makers who had a synergy with our philosophy – those defiantly optimistic people who are cultural pioneers in their own right in their own region. Using Keep Walking as an example, this has seen us partner with the likes of Thai singer/actress Violette Wautier who led the way in revitalising local street culture, to K-Pop icon CL, who launched a series of events in iconic venues to reinforce Seoul's reputation as a vibrant, progressive hub.”
Another example is Johnnie Walker’s collaboration with a rising star of the fashion industry, Shanghai-based designer Angel Chen (below), to celebrate Lunar New Year 2023. For the Year of the Rabbit, Johnnie Walker released a vibrantly illustrated, new Johnnie Walker Lunar New Year Limited Edition Design created by Angel, with the stunningly vivid design featuring a dynamic, modern interpretation of 2023’s Zodiac animal, the sprightly rabbit.
In Asia Pacific, the Johnnie Walker brand will continue to explore creative avenues to reach out more effectively to the younger generations of whisky admirers. To support that, Diageo’s overall marketing investment has grown by 9%, with a focus on Scotch in Asia Pacific markets.
The Mandala Club was the venue for the recent Johnnie Walker Blue Label immersive experience in Singapore. In the specially designed space for the experience, guests were greeted by dark, lush circular rooms lit up by a vivid audiovisual LED wall that flashed fluid, flowing imagery of varying colours, shapes and textures.
In the centre of each room was a round table with a bottle of Johnnie Walker for tasting. The host invited guests to put on headphones and to focus on the ambient sounds that enhanced the effect of the moving imagery. Then, he took them through the tasting to discover the complex aromas and notes that undulated through the palate in rhythms of intensity and delicacy for a full satiation of the senses.
That is the kind of immersive experience that Johnnie Walker wants its whiskies to be enjoyed in – as a personal experience that is felt, seen, heard and tasted.
“It is about being evocative,” says João. “Curating such experiences for our consumers is part of that progress that I have talked about. We want people to go to a Johnnie Walker experience and have a memorable time that is different, tasteful and creative. We want people to see every bottle of Johnnie Walker as a souvenir of the experience they had. The gateway to our world.”
Likewise, Johnnie Walker gives much thought to the venues it selects, and the Mandala Club is a private members-only club that welcomes the entrepreneurs of society who celebrate success and push the boundaries, two ethos that align with that of Johnnie Walker’s.
João adds, “In a way, we pay homage to Johnnie Walker by ‘bringing it alive’ as much as possible to our consumers. By doing so, whisky tasting becomes an accessible lifestyle activity, and you don’t have to be an expert connoisseur to enjoy it.”
It’s the era of the phygital world, and Johnnie Walker plays into both the online and offline space to extend its consumer reach.
In yet another facet of progress exemplified by Johnnie Walker, João shares, “We’ve recently launched our Johnnie Walker Black Label Keep Walking City Collection (above) by using leading-edge technology to convert pollution from key cities into ink, each with a unique bottle design created by local artists. We sold out within days of launching in Warsaw, Bangkok and Madrid, and we have a city rollout plan for the coming months.”
The Blue Label takes things further with one giant innovative leap – into the stratosphere. Launched last year, the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Cities of Future collection features London, Hainan, Taipei, Mexico City, Seoul, Sydney, Bangkok, Berlin, Singapore – and Mars.
“In partnership with the incredibly talented digital artist Luke Halls (below), we imagined how iconic cities would look like in 200 years. We captured that with stunning bottle designs with a digital access point for consumers to enjoy the details of our vision of the future on their devices,” says João.
“Ultimately, our consumers are not just analog driven or digital driven, and we have to adapt to their behaviours by making sure Johnnie Walker has an omnichannel presence.”
The brand aims to reduce waste and increase recyclability by adopting a circular supply-chain model. “We are totally committed to being the most sustainable whisky in the world, and that means creating products with low-carbon footprint. We also aim to inspire the communities around us with initiatives that give back,” says João. He cites the example of Keep Walking funds in Taiwan that support over 200 projects with an impact on the local community, a project that has been active for over 20 years.
As part of Diageo’s ‘Society 2030: Spirit of Progress’ action plan, sustainable design is an important aspect, and the goal is to have 100% of its packaging widely recyclable and sustainably sourced paper to ensure zero net deforestation, among other targets.
“Globally, Diageo is removing over 183 million cardboard gift boxes per year across the world, across our premium Scotch portfolio (including Johnnie Walker Red and Black Label). Also, when we talk about circularity, we are looking at advancements in two key areas. One is regenerative agriculture, and looking at ingredient sourcing. The second is about the last mile of the value chain, and providing consumers with a simple way to return our product back into the loop,” says João.
He shares that Johnnie Walker is working on a couple of such circular sustainability projects that will be launched in the near future.
The whisky market in Asia Pacific is strongly influenced by lifestyle changes and shifts in social status. They will continue to be key drivers in an industry that was estimated to be worth US$1.84 billion in 2021 in Asia Pacific, according to Market Data Forecast. This demand is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.25% to reach US$2.4 billion by 2026.
Riding on the momentum, Johnnie Walker’s growth looks strong, fuelled by the younger generations of whisky admirers driving these social shifts. The team at Johnnie Walker have leveraged a proud, historic reputation with clear-eyed thinking about the future, and they’re not slowing down. Keep walking, indeed.