Johnnie Walker Plays Big in China

If you follow the spirits industry, then you know that whiskey is hitting a high point, not just domestically, but in developing nations like China.  As consumers in the east have increasing amounts of disposable income, high-end spirits from the western hemisphere have increasing appeal.  The Scotch category is growing at 8% value with Diageo’s own Scotch portfolio sales increasing at twice that rate.

Diageo, whose portfolio includes the likes of Johnnie Walker is striking while the iron is hot with some serious marketing to the Chinese consumer with the luxury mindset.  About a month ago, they launched The Johnnie Walker House, a four-story mansion in Shanghai that allows invited guests to sample product under the guise of some of the brands most trusted experts.  The space will also be used to host lectures, dinners, masterclasses, trade events and more.

But, JW didn’t stop there, they created 1,000 bottles of a custom blend, called The 1910 Edition, sold within the house for a mere $2,000 each.  The rare prize is meant to commemorate the original journey taken by Johnnie Walker by boat from Scotland to China in 1910, a perilous journey at the time, all the way around Africa and up through the Indian Ocean.

Whiskey knowledge is a rare skill in China and most who possess it have developed it independently through years of trial and careful sensory analysis.  It’s not grounded in facts and close geographic or cultural contact with the product.  The Johnnie Walker House intends to amplify and accelerate this process by integrating everything about the product’s story into the design elements and offerings within the space. “From the peat and barley walls to the precise 24° angle and colouring of the oak flooring, each detail reflects some element of the whisky story.”, says Love Creative, they’re Manchester-based agency.

To further emphasize the product’s historic connection to China, the brand partnered with London-based artist Chris Martin to create a series of limited edition bottles, depicting the products original ocean voyage in a classic blue and white Chinese willow pattern.  Together, the 7 different bottles depict a mural that begins in Scotland and ends in China.

I love this project for a number of reasons, but mostly for it’s strategic insight.  The brand has found a perfect balance between connecting the product to Chinese culture through this rich and untold story about its original journey while maintaining the desirability that comes with a far-away western brand.  Not to mention, they’ve created a platform for themselves in China that can easily grow into new creative projects that will connect with the audience on a core cultural level, while still maintaining it’s aspirational identity.

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