Johnnie Walker is the world’s leading spirits brand by value (Brand Finance Drinks 50) but it has a minimal presence in the UK market.
Diageo plans to change that with the brand’s first UK TV ad in 50 years, starting on November 4.
Customer marketing director Steven Hamilton said Johnnie Walker is a global “powerhouse” that recruits young adults to the whisky category.
Diageo aims to use it to recruit British 25 to 35-year-olds to whisky and spark a revival in the category’s fortunes.
Nielsen figures show 5.3 million shoppers left the whisky category between 2000 and 2010, and figures continue to plummet.
Hamilton said: “There is a long-term decline of the whisky category in the UK. Whisky has a phenomenal share of the off-trade spirits market – 32%, worth £2.1 billion – so people need this category to be healthy and strong.
“Globally it’s not in this place – it’s young and vibrant and it’s in global growth.
“In Britain the image of the category is stopping people coming into it. We need to take it away from stuffy and provincial and something your dad drinks to something with substance and depth to it.
“We are going to revitalise the standard category, recruit a whole new generation of whisky consumers through Johnnie Walker, and we are going to capitalise on the growing trend of premiumisation.
“We are hoping this is going to be the start of a massive revival of the whisky category for the next 10-15 years.”
Hamilton pointed out that Johnnie Walker already benefits from global sponsorships of Formula 1 and the Ryder Cup, along with global ambassadors like model David Gandy, and that the UK, its home market, should benefit from this too.
The focus of the ad campaign – which includes a £1.3 million spend in the month of November that will see the brand on all TV channels plus YouTube – will be Johnnie Walker Red Label, and promoting it to be served with ginger ale.
“Young people don’t sip short drinks,” said Hamilton. “To revive this category we have got to get the image and serve right and Johnnie Walker Red Label and ginger ale is a serve they can relate to.”
Diageo is also releasing an eye-catching limited-edition bottle for its Gold Label Reserve variant in the build-up to Christmas.
The square bottle has been coated with a golden lacquer to give it a gold bullion effect designed to make it stand out on shelf
It will be available in luxury retailers including Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and The Whisky Exchange, with an rrp of £42 for a 70cl bottle.
Diageo aims to use this sort of bottle to make Johnnie Walker an “aspirational” brand for its core 25 to 35-year-old audience, but mainly sell them Red Label.
Hamilton said: “We need to build the aspiration image, not the cigar and tartan image – that doesn’t appeal.
“It also needs to be accessible. Super-deluxe is not accessible. We need scale of distribution. We need the price to be just below Jack Daniels.”
Tesco and Waitrose are currently selling Johnnie Walker Red Label at £19.70 for a 70cl bottle.