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By Seb Joseph, News editor

September 18, 2015 | 5 min read

Johnnie Walker’s biggest marketing outlay to uncork new growth opportunities will be underpinned by contextual ads spanning not just digital media but print and outdoor also.

With the reveal of the whisky's anticipated brand makeover out the way, Diageo’s focus has shifted to getting its “Joy Will Take You Further” mantra in front of as many eyes as possible. It’s a new spin on personal progress, a theme Johnnie Walker has mined to expand into over 30 markets since 1999 but admits had become a “bit broken”. An emphasis on happiness before success instead of vice versa separates the new creative approach from the old though changes also impact how when and where Johnnie Walker is seen.

“Context is critical,” said global brand director Guy Escolme. “It gives us the ability to start to look at a global cultural calendar and to plan ahead as well do things at a local level. It means we can plan but also be reactive and agile, allowing us to become like a publisher or an editor in terms of how we’re going to respond to events around the world as well as plan ahead to have a voice in those events.”

It sounds like standard objectives for a brand of Johnnie Walker’s scale. What’s interesting is the seemingly razor focus on tapping into cultural events to “create more fame” – as Esoclme called it – through messages more tailored to their environment. A Johnnie Walker ad in a technology magazine could be tailored around innovation, said Escolme, as an example or an inspiring message on an ad placed on a marathon route. Many of the ads will feature its brand ambassadors in mid-stride, recalling the motif of Johnnie Walker’s famous logo.

The need for fame aside, contextual ads simply equate to harder working media investments. Over 70 pieces of creative are set to appear over many different channels with Diageo employing a modular approach that will hit nearly 270 million people worldwide over the first ten days of launch. It’s an ambitious target but achievable given the drinks business has consolidated the media buying into global catalogues in order to give it scale while simultaneously shave costs.

Social media, both owned and the earned from the followers of its brand ambassadors such as Formula One driver Jenson Button and Hollywood star Jude Law, will be used to bring that scale online. Bespoke content for each ambassador will be pushed out via all these channels, whether it's “The Gentleman’s Wager 2” with Law or a documentary following the exploits of favela painters Haas & Hahn. While all content will be pulled into a revamped Johnnie Walker site and hosted on YouTube, Johnnie Walker’s social media presence will differ from country to country.

“It’s a conversation we’re having with all of our markets,” said Escolme. “Not only are we looking at it [social media] from a global standpoint we’re also really looking for local resonance to make sure that our plans at a local level are constructed in such a way that they’re being adapted to the local digital media environment.”

That model is informed by Diageo’s wider move to channel its marketing around fewer but bigger creative campaigns that are capable of lasting longer all year round rather than restricted to seasonal flashpoints.

“We know consumers today are marketing savvy and marketing cynical,” said Diageo’s chief marketing officer Syl Saller. “They want brands to stand for something real. They want brands to live what they’re doing and not just saying. And they’re looking for brands that share their values.”

Behind the glitz and the glamour of a new campaign is the pressing issue of new revenue streams. Despite a scotch renaissance opening up demand in both matured and emerging markets, there were signs last year that the brand had to move forward. According to IWSR, global brand volume dropped in 2014 1.7 per cent to 18.8 million cases, a drop backed by the knocks Diageo revealed it had suffered in the US, while slowdowns in Australia, Brazil and Thailand had compounded the issue. It may have seemed a surprise to outsiders when Diageo called a review and subsequently walked Johnnie Walker on from BBH to Anomaly last year. However, the swiftness of the change belies how key the brand is to the world’s largest drinks business and its intention to keep moving forward.

Escolme said: “We look at the consumer context today and we think it’s radically different [to 15 years ago]. Actually our message has to be one that’s current, relevant and resonates with consumers.”

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