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A 200-year-old brand attempts to break through its iconic male image.


Johnnie and Jane

The perfect match up or a mess up?

By Karen McGaughey, VP Client Services, Strum

Passion and purpose inspired Johnnie Walker, a scotch whiskey maker, to introduce “Jane Walker” to its product line—a symbol of its commitment to progress and gender equality. They further backed this talk with a promise to donate $1 to gender equality focused organizations.

My initial reaction was “that’s pretty cool.” It’s an acknowledgment of women’s accomplishments, plus it’s an attempt to bring more balance to the gender scale (even if it’s just a scotch label). But then skepticism set in, I wondered what took Johnnie Walker so long and why now, after all it has been 200 years. Was it genuine? Or, was it simply a marketing opportunity seized during National Women’s History Month?

It didn’t take long until Johnnie Walker was under fire. Harsh criticism followed their Vice President Stephanie Jacoby’s statement, “Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women.” Critics riled against what they interpreted as superiority and patronizing words against all women. Granted, it was a poor choice of words and judgment too—especially by today’s standards. More than ever many women and men are standing together for gender equality. Social activism movements such as #MeToo signify solidarity and strength, and rejects intimidation and abuse imposed on women.

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So, how did Johnnie Walker’s VP miss the mark by a mile? In an effort to honor and celebrate women they alienated the audience whose attention they wanted the most. Critical audience segmentation insights were totally absent and created a brand mess. The scotch whiskey maker would have succeeded had they truly understood their audience. How much can a company really know about its target audience if all they have is the audience gender, age, income and geographic location? Not much.

Demographic insights alone limit marketing and brand strategy. Utilizing existing customer data-informed further by lifestyle segmentation with multivariate analyses of consumer attitudes, values, behaviors, perceptions, beliefs and interests provides companies with the deepest and most relevant audience insights. A lifestyle segmentation strategy combined with defined key audience personas would have helped Johnnie Walker accomplish its goal of achieving greater resonance and appeal with not only female non-scotch drinkers, but with women scotch drinkers who currently choose other labels.

Hats off to Johnnie Walker for the courage and risk they took to adapt and evolve its established brand. The lesson to be learned is not keenly understanding your target audience segments can hurt your brand.

Time will tell if Johnnie and Jane will ever become a perfect match up, right now it resembles more of a mess up.