With whiskey sales booming, brands are rejiggering their creative approach to appeal to a broader audience than their traditional white male consumer base. With women now representing 30% of U.S. whiskey drinkers, Johnnie Walker has focused on integrating women into its marketing, both behind the scenes and on screen.
Johnnie Walker, a blended Scotch whisky label owned by Diageo, hired its first female master blender in 2021 and even released a limited-edition bottle that replaced its famous “walking man” motif with a woman. In a continuation of these efforts, the scotch brand recently wrapped up a three-part video series on female empowerment featuring comedian Lilly Singh as part of its “First Strides” program. All three were scripted and directed by Singh and produced through Unicorn Island Productions, underscoring how the brand is integrating new voices into its creative process.
“[The partnership is] similar in the sense that when I usually work with a brand, they have an idea of what they're trying to accomplish, especially in terms of the overall campaign and talking points which were already established,” said Singh in an email to Marketing Dive. “What's different with this partnership is how it has allowed me to bring forth my culture in a creative way.”
A stride in the right direction
The three videos center around three different days: Women’s Equality Day, American Business Women’s Day and the midterm elections. Each is about a minute in length and star Singh, Sophia Bush and Aurora James, respectively.
All three videos feel very similar, both in tone and style, sprinkling in facts while still being humorous. For example, in the spot featuring Bush, Bush states a fact about women in the workforce and is ignored. A second later, a male colleague repeats the same fact, and is praised.
“Johnnie Walker was open about communicating their vision to me,” Singh said in an email. “When they shared their campaign summary, I sat with that for a few days and thought of three or four ideas that would get the message across in a creative way. My brain develops ideas in terms of sketches, so that's usually where I go first. Typically, I had three or four sketches conceptualized and narrowed it down to one with the help of the Johnnie Walker team.”
“First Strides,” which launched earlier this year, is born out of the brand’s 2020 “First Women” campaign. That effort mostly focused on supporting the organization IFundWomen, a female entrepreneur fund. “First Strides” continues that commitment while also expanding to include additional organizations like She Should Run, Black Girl Ventures and the ERA Coalition.
“The ‘First Strides’ initiative came from the understanding that we can’t truly have equality until there is equality for all,” said Sophie Kelly, senior vice president of the whiskey portfolio for Diageo North America in an email to Marketing Dive. “The initiative focuses our ambitions to support individuals and organizations within underrepresented communities who are marking firsts in their communities so there can be seconds, thirds and fourths to follow,”
Outside of the three videos on women in leadership, Singh worked on more brand-centric spots, including one where a family celebrates Diwali. During that video, which is also part of the “First Strides” campaign, all become impressed when Singh breaks out a bottle of Blue Label. According to Singh, the partnership has allowed her to dig into her culture.
Like “First Strides” and much of Johnnie Walker’s recent efforts, the video also centered around breaking barriers and challenging scotch stereotypes. For example, in the Diwali spot, Singh gets offended when Blue Label is only offered to a man, not a woman.
“We collaborated with Lilly on a campaign that challenged stuffy scotch traditions and subverted expectations around Mother’s Day by celebrating the badass moms who enjoy scotch,” said Kelly. “Lilly scripted, produced and starred in a hilarious sketch that juxtaposed the stereotypical circle of uncles sipping on scotch at a party with a toast of Johnnie Walker to the many barriers overcome by the women who really run the show, the aunties in her life.”
Ultimately, “First Strides” is not just about supporting women, but integrating Johnnie Walker into female spaces. As part of the effort, it produced “Running with the Angels,” the official anthem of Angel City Football Club, a women’s soccer team in Los Angeles. The videos with Singh further cement this approach.
“We look forward to the day where there are no more firsts to celebrate because that means everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed,” said Kelly. “But even then, we will still celebrate the firsts that paved the way for others to live their dreams so people are inspired to blaze trails and take bold strides that lead towards a brighter tomorrow for all.”