Johnnie Walker Blue Label - "A Gentleman's Wager" Viral Campaign

Best Matching of Message to Medium(s) (SILVER)
Canadian Success on The Global Stage (SILVER)

Client Credits: Diageo
Anita Robinson

Agency Credits: Anomaly
Mike Byrne - Creative Director
Mark Sarosi - Art Director
Dave Douglass - Copy Writer
RSA Films - Production House
Jake Scott - Director
Karina Wilsher - Anomaly President
Lauren Bozarth - Account Director
Winslow Dennis - Executive Producer


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):August - October 2014
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: August 2014
Base Period as a Benchmark: August - October 2013

a) Overall Assessment

This is the story of two men, a hand-made luxury Italian yacht, and a gentleman’s wager made over a rarer-than-rare scotch whiskey. This is the story of the short film written in Canada that set out to make Johnnie Walker Blue Label the definitive global icon of new luxury. And it’s the story of a campaign that used strategic insight to plan for virality rather than simply leave it to chance.


After suffering a period of decline following the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the luxury market had bounced back and was in a period of rapid growth. Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the most premium of Johnnie Walker’s range of whiskies, was our opportunity to capitalize on this growth.


While people’s appetite for luxury goods had returned, the GFC had permanently changed how luxury was defined and displayed. A new luxury mindset was emerging and scotch was not part of it.


In the world of new luxury, scotch was perceived as dusty and old fashioned. Its value was judged rationally and quantitatively by the length of time it had been aged and not by the experience of drinking it. Scotch was firmly stuck in the world of old luxury.


We needed to lift Johnnie Walker out of premium whisky and position it in the world of new luxury. As the brief stated, we had to “[s]ubvert the norm of super deluxe whiskies. Not take the high ground of the category but a different ground, one where we are not defined by being a scotch, but defined by our credentials and amazing brand world.”


In doing so, sales of Blue Label needed to go up. And we were set challenging targets in each market to achieve that. 

b) Resulting Business Objectives

While Johnnie walker blue label appeals to the ultra-niche group that can afford it (at $250 USD a bottle) we had to make it popular to the masses, more to the point make the brand an authentic part of popular culture and desirable to everyone. “We want People to feel the same way they do about Blue Label as they do when they see the Cartier red box or the Tiffany Blue bag.” (quote from client brief)

A significant increase in sales (5%) of Blue Label in emerging global markets. Not only an increase in market share and share of throat but an overall increase in desire for Johnnie Walker Blue Label – “drive purchase as an indulgent gift to themselves.” (quote from client brief)

Business goals within the period of August to October 2014 vs. the same period in 2013. 

c) Annual Media Budget
Over $5 million

d) Geographic Area
Globally, with a specific focus on emerging global markets, including APAC (Asia-Pacific).

a) Analysis and Insight

Our audience: the progressive global luxury consumer and the people and media who influence them. They list time as their greatest luxury; due to their busy lifestyles they spend less time watching broadcast television and are adept at screening out interruptive advertising. To reach them we would need to create an experience they wanted to engage with.

As a truly global brand, our solution would need to appeal to the luxury consumer in 21 different countries, from India to the US and everywhere in between. 

b) Communication Strategy

If we were to successfully position Blue Label as the definitive icon of new luxury we needed to:


  1. Show that Johnnie Walker understood the world of new luxury better than any other brand
  2. Demonstrate this in a way that resonated globally
  3. Create something that people would choose to engage with




While luxury has always been a means to display one’s wealth and status, its expressions change, driven by the macrocultural context of the time. The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 was a catalyst for such a change.


As the first crisis of a global age, there was collective instability and uncertainty. The institutions people once depended on, from governments to banks, were crumbling all around them. The financial support and protection that once were guaranteed disappeared almost overnight. As stock prices plummeted and banks faltered, it was less clear what money was worth. People began to reassess what they really valued and, in turn, the ways they would display their wealth.


Where once material objects were used to display wealth, now the luxury consumer was increasingly displaying their wealth through experiences and knowledge. They were living life for the stories and spending large amounts of money doing so. As the Boston Consulting Group reported, in 2012 experiential luxury was growing 50 percent faster than sales of luxury objects.


It was a phenomenon being witnessed to varying degrees in both the East and the West.


And while objects were still important symbols of wealth, the type of objects people desired were those with authenticity and craft, a means to showcase their knowledge, connoisseurship, and worldliness.


Conclusion: In the world of new luxury, people increasingly valued experiences, not just objects.



While there was no denying the emergence of new luxury, the balance between old and new luxury varied by country. For example, India was more in the world of old luxury, while in Singapore and Japan new luxury had firmly taken hold (FIGURE 1: The Spread of Luxury Model).


FIGURE 1: The Spread of Luxury Model


This posed a difficult challenge to global luxury brands. As Anya Hindmarch said, "[l]uxury brands can be divided into two categories: those that offer what the new world wants, and those that provide for the established market.”


Conclusion: We needed to do what no other luxury brand had managed to do and straddle both worlds of old and new luxury.



With a time-poor audience who were adept at shutting out advertising, we needed an idea that people would choose to engage with, a truly viral campaign that would get coverage on a global scale and reach five million luxury consumers.


Viral campaigns have been described as ‘a hole-in-one’: great when they happen but they so rarely do that it’s as much luck as it is skill. Or is it?


For this campaign we meticulously planned every detail with the purpose of creating a viral hit. We began by studying the key elements to viral content and arrived at a simple formula that would give ourselves the best chance of success: CELEBRITY x CULTURE x STORY



We needed someone with universal appeal. Someone who woman wanted to be with, and men wanted to be. A stylish individual who embodied the Blue Label drinker and the world they aspire to live in. And, most importantly, someone whose name alone would create column inches.



Leaning into culture and the things that resonated with a global audience was critical. We began by studying the top YouTube videos of the time (aka. Psy’s Gangnam Style, the Evolution of Dance, and Waka Waka by Shakira with a collective billions of views), the top TV shows (aka. Dance India Dance, Dancing with the Stars, Thailand Dance Now) and even the Oscar winners (aka. The Artist, Silver Lining’s Playbook).

Wherever we looked, we saw that dance played a role in entertainment that transcended borders and resonated the world over. Dance guaranteed eyeballs. People love to watch other people dance. Dance is both glamorous and sexy, part finesse and part power. Dance is universal but can also be highly exclusive. If we wanted to guarantee viral success, having a strong dance element as part of the narrative was essential.

a) Media Used

  • Online film (YouTube & Unruly)

b) Creative Discussion

To ensure the story would appeal to both old and new luxury markets we set about writing a story about the new luxury world of experiences, but set in the world of old luxury. And of course it needed to include a strong dance component as part of the story.


So rather than ask for a viral hit, we had meticulously calculated the core elements of the idea.


Conclusion: To create a campaign people would choose to engage with we needed to follow this formula: JUDE LAW x DANCE x A QUEST FOR NEW EXPERIENCES SET IN THE WORLD OF OLD LUXURY 



And so The Gentleman’s Wager was born: a story of two men who, despite having it all, use a wager as an excuse to experience new things, from learning the piano to putting on a show in the world's oldest surviving music hall. The whole story is wrapped in the world of old luxury: a world of yachts, exotic locations and bespoke suits, but it speaks in the tones of new luxury by narrating a unique and once-in-a-lifetime experience.


We knew if we wanted eyeballs the campaign could not feel like an advert, it had to feel like entertainment, something our audience would choose to watch and share. We approached the campaign as though we were producing and launching a short film. This decision affected everything from the production values to how we marketed it. Product posters were treated like “Coming Soon” movie posters. We cast Hollywood celebrities in the main roles. The film ended with a full list of credits. And we premiered the film in the cinemas in the Soho House network and screened the film at the Venice Film Festival.


To make the film itself an experience, we partnered with Mr. Porter, the top global men’s lifestyle publication, to let people shop the look from the film and literally buy into the lifestyle of the world of Blue Label.



“Coming Soon” style movie posters were used to promote the film.



Launch event in India.


Screening at the Venice Film Festival.



YouTube and Unruly media players.



Mr. Porter experience, with deeper content and shop-the-look page.

c) Media Discussion

With 100 hours of video uploaded globally every minute, we had to make sure our video was brought to the attention of our audience and discovered at scale.


As with every part of the campaign, we didn’t just put money behind the film and hope it would be seen and shared; its release was carefully planned and implemented. Research of previous viral campaigns told us that, like the movie business, the  “opening weekend” was critical to success, with 50% of all sharing happening in the first 3 weeks. We therefore needed to create a viral peak early on to make the film trend on video charts and social newsfeeds, and earn more views.


FIGURE 2: Study of viral content, illustrating the importance of creating a ‘viral peak’


This led us to execute a coordinated global PR and paid media launch across 21 countries simultaneously, run out of Singapore. We spent 30% of our budget in the first week to maximise the viral peak, and the centralized approach allowed us to move budgets around depending on where views and shares were coming from. Lastly, we launched everything on a Wednesday, since data showed that launching on a Wednesday would give us the greatest chance for success.


FIGURE 3: Study of online sharing by day of week, showing most sharing occurs on Wednesday.


We used YouTube and Unruly as our key video distribution partners with clear roles for each. We activated YouTube for its reach potential and its ability to distribute long form video widely, and we used Unruly for its distribution through a strong influencer network and a highly shareable player. This also included a blogger outreach program that targeted trade marketing and Men’s KOLs in both global and local digital publications. 

a) Sales/Share Results

This was a global campaign that ran throughout APAC. Due to availability of data at time of writing (IWSR doesn’t report sales until Q2 2015) we will focus on two priority markets where data is available: Australia and India.


In the three months of the campaign (August–October) sales by volume of 9L cases increased significantly versus the same period the previous year:


Australia sales:        +48%

India sales:               +25%


But that wasn’t all. Econometric analysis to identify the impact of the campaign above baseline sales (i.e. the sales that are generated through in-store presence and historic brand equity) showed a direct sales impact of 1.8 in Australia (i.e. 1.8 dollars in sales per dollar in media) and 1.3 in India.

 And this translated to a greater market share, increasing from 35% to 42% in India a 7% increase in Share of Throat. 



(Source: TNS)



We also saw an increase in depletion rates of Blue Label at key airports in APAC where the campaign was activated:


Singapore     +17%

Hong Kong   +29%

Korea           +21%

Taiwan          +12%


All increases are directly attributable to the campaign as no promotional, price discounting, or other marketing activity to which sales might be attributed took place during this time


(Source: Diageo)




Against an objective of 5 million views for the period July 30 to December 3:


Total global views                           45 million

Total India views                              2.5 million

Total Australia views                       1.1 million


Engagement on Mr. Porter            873k


(Source: YouTube Analytics and UNRULY)


We achieved close to 120,000 shares, taking us to the #1 position on the Mashable Viral Video Chart on 11 August, and a top 10 ranking for the next month.



(Source: Mashable Viral Video Chart)


Johnnie Walker gained almost half of all digital share of voice in the alcohol category globally, compared to a less than 2% prior to the campaign.



(Source: Unruly Analytics, calculated as the share of digital engagements with brands)




We successfully helped make Johnnie Walker Blue Label the definitive global icon of new luxury, increasing its digital share of voice among other luxury brands globally from 1.6% to 58.9%.



(Source: Unruly Analytics, calculated as the share of digital engagements with brands)




The campaign generated a significant amount of PR at both a local and global level. 



While the campaign was focused on Blue Label, a halo effect was seen across the trademark brand.


In India, brand tracking indicated an increase in key brand measures for Johnnie Walker.



(Source: TNS) 


b) Consumption/ Usage Results

In the three months of the campaign (August-October), sales by volume of 9L cases increased significantly versus the same period the previous year:

Australia sales:        +48%

India sales:               +25%

c) Other Pertinent Results

At peak, we achieved a 586% increase in social media conversations about Johnnie Walker Blue Label vs. the pre-campaign average. On average over the campaign we increased daily conversations by 50% (UK). 

d) Return on Investment

45 MILLION TOTAL GLOBAL VIEWS AND COUNTING, 9 times the stated objective of 5 million, for a Global investment of $3.8 million USD. Consumers were engaged for 2 minutes and 10 seconds for a total of 70 million minutes spent with the brand.


By comparison, a single Super Bowl spot with $4 million USD invested generates 111 million views with the audience engaged for 30 seconds for a total of 56 million minutes spent with the brand.

a) General Discussion

Best let our partners outline the clear link between the advertising and our amazing results:


“The Johnnie Wager campaign was a fantastic example of what can be achieved through a coordinated, globally orchestrated campaign. By utilising a 'mission control' approach Diageo were able to significantly outperform category benchmarks. The results have been outstanding, for a piece of content that has broken the traditional boundaries of 30" at 6 mins long! Johnnie Walker produced a high quality, extremely entertaining video distributed on YouTube. By using TrueView to engage with the right audience and real time analytics combined with the power of data; Diageo were able to achieve stellar performance figures: VTR of 15.07%, with a CPV of $0.10 (as of Sept 1st). We've also seen a high number of positive comments from the YouTube audience demonstrating that great content, targeting the right audience works!”

-      YOUTUBE


“This is the most successful alcohol campaign we've ever run, outperforming the likes of Heineken and Bacardi. The record performance over the first two weeks was previously held by Heineken; we exceeded the views on that campaign by 700%, the clicks by 2,033% and the shares by 2,049%.”

-       Unruly

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

No other brand activity was in market for Johnnie Walker Blue Label during the campaign timeframe. Further, given the premium positioning of the product, there were no discounts, promotions or distribution changes.


See above.

Distribution Changes:

See above.

Unusual Promotional Activity:

See above.

Other Potential Causes:

See above.