Diageo, the world’s biggest spirits maker, is rolling out a limited-edition, female version of Johnnie Walker Black Label that will go on sale next month. The revamped logo, which sees ‘Jane Walker’ in boots mid-stride tipping her hat, is an attempt to draw more women to the world’s best-selling Scotch and create a wider push toward gender equality.
For decades, Johnnie Walker has marketed its Scotch mainly to men, but the share of whisky female drinkers in the US rose to 29.6% in 2016 from 28.2% in 2010, according to Nielsen. The Wall Street Journal claims that the new marketing stunt "comes on the heels of a Diageo campaign called #LoveScotch", which portrayed attractive young women drinking Scotch together across billboards, social media and magazines in various countries.
Debuting in March to coincide with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, Jane Walker is an attempt to support women in business, culture and politics as the company will donate US$1 for each bottle produced to non-profit campaigns such as Monumental Women, an all-volunteer organisation dedicated to placing the first statue to honour women’s history in New York City’s Central Park, and She Should Run, an initiative to inspire more women to run for elected office.
Moreover, the London-based Diageo sets to boosts its female representation internally, "calling on advertising agencies to put forward one female director as part of any work pitch."
The female iteration of the logo, as well as the brand’s effort to make women’s voices heard, seems like a step forward in narrowing gender divide. While some applauded Diageo’s move, some, however, found it patronising.
The situation was exacerbated by a comment from vice president Stephanie Jacoby, “Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women. It’s a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand.”
To be fair, the introduction of Jane Walker is a proud toast to women’s achievements at Johnnie Walker and beyond. For example, Elizabeth Cumming, who is considered fundamental in the creation of the brand’s blended whiskey, sold the Cardhu distillery she owns to John Walker & Sons. But Netizens can’t help but feel that the campaign is merely jumping on the feminist bandwagon. Maura Judkis of Washington Post wrote a satirical piece on how “creating gendered packaging for women and saying they are intimidated by Scotch” does not help with championing women’s causes in any way.
While the impetus and intention of the launch is to bring more female icons to the forefront, the execution may achieve the exact opposite of the campaign’s goals. Charitable donations and improving visibility of female in the workplace are all very laudable but do we really need a ‘transformative’ logo – a label – to invite women into the conversation? Women, or in fact everyone, should be able to enjoy a drink based on the quality of the liquid that goes in the bottle, not what’s printed on it.