Johnnie Walker skews younger with vintage tasting promotion

Anyone who knows anything about scotch whisky can tell you that the older it is, the better it gets....

Anyone who knows anything about scotch whisky can tell you that the older it is, the better it gets.

So, it makes perfect sense that Johnnie Walker, Canada’s number-one scotch brand, would pull a 10-year-old direct marketing idea out of the cask in order to introduce itself to a new generation of drinkers.

Last month, a select group of consumers in the Toronto area received an invitation to the Johnnie Walker ‘Journey of Taste’ – a series of presentations that drew close to 1,000 people interested in learning about the history of the 180-year-old distilling company and, perhaps more importantly, the fine art of scotch tasting.

There were two goals for the campaign, developed by Toronto-based Engine Room, says Richard Fitzgerald, president and CEO of UDV Canada, the Canadian arm of Johnnie Walker’s parent company, United Distillers & Vintners (itself a part of Diageo). Because scotch drinkers tend to be in their late 30s or older, the first goal, he says, was to introduce the category to younger drinkers.

The second was to get people who have a propensity to drink scotch to adopt Johnnie Walker as their preferred brand and, by inviting them to a somewhat exclusive event, get them talking about it with their friends.

If all goes well, some of those who attend will become ‘small-’a’ ambassadors’ for the brand, Fitzgerald says.

Because of the expense involved in mounting a combined direct mail/sampling effort, Fitzgerald says UDV tried to target its direct mail prospecting efforts to professional males, such as lawyers and investment bankers, who are demographically predisposed to drink scotch. Last month’s invitation mailing, for instance, went out to prospects culled from five lists, comprising males 28-39 with an above average income who live in selected Toronto-area neighbourhoods.

Although interest in scotch has been growing in recent years, driven primarily by demand for prestigious single-malt whiskies, the overall scotch category declined by 3% between 1990 and 1995, according to Impact, a trade publication for the alcohol and spirits industry. Between 1995 and 1998, it says, the category remained fairly flat.

In such an environment, it’s no wonder that UDV, which commands a 42% share of the scotch market in Canada, was on the lookout for new ideas to counterbalance the stagnation in the overall market.

When it reviewed its options, however, the company determined that the best course was to revive the tastings it had abandoned in favour of other, less expensive promotions.

Like a fine scotch, the tasting concept hasn’t lost anything with the passage of time: Johnnie Walker has received responses from roughly 2,000 would-be participants – twice as many as they have room for.

Because the invitation drew a greater response than expected, UDV has established a waiting list for those interested in getting first dibs on round two of the program. Dates for that program have not yet been established.