Johnnie Walker drawing criticism for female-oriented scotch

The company claimed to highlight women and increase female representation, but when the company said its whisky ‘intimidated’ women, the blowback was immediate.

There’s a fine line between pushing gender equality and patronizing a target audience.

After Yum! brands suffered backlash for suggesting a new kind of”lady-friendly” chips, the world’s biggest scotch maker decided it would give the tactic a try.

USA Today reported:

The whisky maker is putting a woman in its logo for the first time ever — a new Jane Walker edition that will be on sale for a limited time. The image of a top-hatted and tuxedo man is transformed into a shapely, long-haired woman in the same dashing outfit.

The special-edition whisky will be sold starting in March to coincide with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day celebrations, according to the company. The suggested retail price is $34 for a 750-milliliter bottle.

The temporary change to the “striding man” logo is an attempt to market the drink to women.

In interviews, executives painted the move as an effort to address gender inequality and to invite more women to engage with the storied brand.

Bloomberg wrote:

“Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women,” [Vice President of Johnny Walker Stephanie Jacoby] said in an interview. “It’s a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand.”

Diageo isn’t alone in putting a female face on a traditionally male mascot. KFC, the fried-chicken chain run by Yum! Brands Inc., tapped country singer Reba McEntire in January to appear as Colonel Sanders in its latest marketing campaign.

Diageo, the company that owns Johnnie Walker, backed up the marketing ploy with actions, including a push for more women on its board and working for its business partners.

Bloomberg continued:

Diageo, based in London, also is looking to increase female representation internally. Its board will be 50 percent women in April, Jacoby said. The company also is calling on advertising agencies to put forward at least one female director as part of any work pitch.

Jane Walker will appear on 250,000 bottles nationwide in March. For every bottle produced, Diageo is donating a dollar to organizations that promote women, including Monumental Women and She Should Run. While this batch of bottles is a limited run, this isn’t the last of Jane.

“We really see Jane as the first female iteration of our striding-man icon,” she said. “We like to think of our striding man and our striding woman as really walking together going forward.”

Though the intention might have been lofty, the message was immediately attacked by slighted female consumers.

Some took a sarcastic swipe:

Others shared their anger more pointedly:

The parallels between this faux pas and Doritos’ gaffe were not lost on anyone.

A satirical piece in The Washington Post made fun of the company’s attempt to woo women. “What do I know about scotch?” mused Maura Judkis. “…How could I possibly know anything about scotch and bourbon and whiskey, drinks that are exclusively for men?”

She quipped, “I have no idea how they are made or what theyre made of, but I suspect the ingredients include testosterone and beard oil. Plus, theres the adage about how these beverages will ‘ put hair on your chest‘— that dreadful tidbit sent me straight to my fainting couch, where it took many whiffs of the smelling salts before I was revived. A Lady is only permitted to have hair on her head, so it was quite distressing to learn of this terrible side effect.”

Judkis noted the company’s good intentions but said the gesture fell short:“…according to the news release, ‘Johnnie Walker will be donating $1 for every bottle of the Jane Walker Edition made to organizations championing women’s causes’,” she writes, “which is nice, but creating gendered packaging for women and saying they are intimidated by scotch does not really further that goal, does it?”

Does this mean brands should stop trying to boost gender equality in their marketing campaigns?

Linda Landers, CEO of Girl Power Marketing, has this advice for marketers looking to target female demographics:

1. Women are not a homogenous group.

2. Women respond to a good story.

3. Women want to be understood.

Others found Johnnie Walker’s marketing treated women as a monolith, and instead of inviting new female customers, the campaign made women feel excluded.

Brian Freedman, in Forbes, wrote:

According to January 2018 numbers from Nielsen Spectra, women represent 29% of Scotch buyers and are responsible for 24% of Scotch sales by volume, which means that there is significant upside in finding a way to sell more Scotch to more women. But if there is a backlash against how this particular campaign goes about that, the risks are substantial.

“I have not seen any quantitative or qualitative data that show whisky-drinking women will respond positively to this type of branding,” spirits expert and author Heather Greene said in an email, adding: “Women don’t want to be separated into this kind of silo. The trick is include them in on the conversation — and quite frankly this does the opposite.”

How would you invite women to try your product, Ragan/PR Daily readers?

(Image via)

COMMENT Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from directly in your inbox.