Johnnie Walker Blue – Taking a top shelf brand to the next level

Brand Communications Agency Melbourne

A High Class Brand Problem
So what do you do when you’re the global market leader? When your brand and packaging is recognized in almost every corner of the world? When your product and brand already command a premium price? What on earth do you do to take it to the next level?

This is the situation the brand managers at Johnnie Walker found themselves in at the end of the first decade at the beginning of the second millennium. And the answer to their conundrum is a grand brand gesture; a new top drop with a price tag to make tongues wag and competitor brands groan. Enter – Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

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A Brand Story Worth Listening-to
Johnnie Walker Blue Label is not just a high-end product line extension, it’s an ultra high-end whisky, a strictly limited edition blended whisky that’s a tribute to the founder of the brand, created from rare stock from nine of the Scottish distilleries that operated in the 1800s during John Walker’s day, and includes stock from some of the last remaining barrels from two distilleries that are no longer open.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/2512519[/vimeo]

As brand gestures-go, this one is a doozy. With the Blue Label, Johnnie Walker not-only honours the heritage of the brand, but reinforces their traditional credentials, tapping-into one of the strongest, current consumer trends. Johnnie Walker are intelligently leveraging the brand’s history, one of their great brand assets, folding powerful brand story-telling into the launch campaign communication. If you haven’t seen the short film/long ad that tells the Johnnie Walker story in the richest of brand voice – give yourself a treat and watch it here.

The John Walker Blue Label is bottled in individually numbered, hand-blown Baccarat crystal decanters – a stunning piece of brand packaging design. Those who drink scotch and know far more than me about these things say of the blend: “The end result is smoky, thanks to the 100-year-old wood oak casks it was stored in, with undertones of honey and spice. It goes nicely with blue cheese at the start of a meal, and even better with chocolate truffles at the end.”

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A Premium Priced Brand Gesture
A bottle of the limited edition Johnnie Walker Blue Label will set you back $4500 and only 330 have been bottled worldwide,of which just 10 have been shipped to Australia and nine of those have already been sold. Charlie Trotter’s bar in San Francisco sells it for $US650 ($658) a dram. A dram of the John Walker Blue Label will soon be available by the glass at the Ivy and Rockpool Bar and Grill in Sydney and Spice Market and Left Bank in Melbourne.

The company’s James Bond-esque brand ambassador Jonathan Driver (pictured at left with a bottle of the bargain priced King George V) visited Australia from Britain this month to launch the product. “We are trying to make something that has elegance, sophistication, structure and nuance,” Driver said. “This is our chance to show off stuff that we are proud of. It shows off what the guys [blenders] can do, and there’s a market for it.”

The brand gesture has been a successful branding exercise for the company, particularly at the luxury end of the market. Sales have been strong, even though it was launched during the GFC, and there’s been a flow-on effect of a 15% increase in sales of the next whisky down, the King George V, which retails for a mere $1000. Which goes to prove brand building exercises can also add immediate value to the bottom line.

Dave Ansett, Brandamentalist
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Designer of Grand Brand Gestures

8 Comments

  1. I agree David, this brand gesture by Johnnie Walker is a ripper. By reinforcing their traditional history with the Blue Label, they really are putting a firm stake in the ground. Lets hope they don’t over use and saturate their own market space with ideas or heritage and brand storytelling, balance i think is the key. Thanks for the post.

  2. Thanks Tim, I think Johnnie Walker is a brand who are very good at knowing where the line is. They keep their brand storytelling rich, but don’t dilute it by over saturating the market with unnecessary brand communications. Like a fine blend of whiskey – it’s all about getting the mix just right.

  3. Although the price is high, it is great to see Johnny Walker using their resources to create a such a well crafted and delicate whisky. This is a great brand gesture to reinforce that Johnny Walker knows whisky, is whisky and will always be makers of the finest whisky.

  4. mmm I don’t know…

    It seams like a blended whiskey super brand trying to grab some notoriety and authenticity.
    How can any company that sells its drink as premix with cola in a can claim to be premium.

    Like Tiffany & Co discovered to be premium, you have to be premium. That means everyone can’t have one!

  5. Interesting perspective Advocate. Given the scotch and cola in a can is a poor brand extension, within the general (see huge, global) scotch category JW is considered a premium brand. In the same way you can buy a Tiffany’s bracelet for $200 or for $200,000 they can still be a premium brand. For both of these brands, their exploration of non-premium lines has been their downfall/

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