How Johnnie Walker Took a Shot with PR

Mike Santoro headshot

As Americans, we’ve all heard of Johnnie Walker, the most widely distributed brand of Scotch Whiskey in the world. But until last year, South Africans hadn’t. This month, while attending the Public Relations Organisation International 2015 Annual Meeting in Cape Town, I was introduced to one of the brand’s more brilliant marketing strategies.

Public Relations Organisation International, or PROI for short, is a network of top PR agencies from across the globe. At this year’s meeting I had the privilege to lead the international keynote session on “Adapting Agencies to Industry Distribution.” Our presentation and panel focused on how, in the changing marketing landscape, agencies can leverage a responsive combination of public relations, digital media and content development.

It was an honor to share my thoughts with such a distinguished group of industry leaders, but one of my favorite moments was learning about Johnnie Walker Platinum’s South Africa launch campaign.

Johnnie Walker partnered with Atmosphere Communications, our South African PROI partner, to launch their platinum label into South Africa’s highly competitive whiskey market. Instead of pushing product, Atmosphere made Platinum scarce and by extension, exclusive.

Watch how:

The One-Bottle Liquor Store was simple in design, but garnered massive success for a number of reasons.

First, Atmosphere, with assistance from the King James Group, helped Johnnie Walker better understand and engage its target audience. Whiskey drinkers crave exclusivity, and there’s nothing more exclusive than a single bottle auctioned to the highest bidder.

Second, the campaign was multi-device and digital, which capitalized on industry trends like social media and multi-device growth. Participants could bid both online and offline, and the pop-up store itself was highly visual.

And third, the campaign had a charitable component. All proceeds were donated to the NGO South Africans Against Drunk Driving, which situated Johnnie Walker’s product with an ideology much bigger, and more important than itself.

This year’s PROI meeting centered on innovation and ingenuity, and Atmosphere’s campaign is a prime example of their combined power. In just two weeks after its launch, South Africa’s entire supply of the platinum label sold out. The campaign drove 58 pieces of on-message coverage, with an overall value of R1.8 million. And, as a testament to campaign’s success, the auctioned bottle sold for 76 times its retail price.

Knowledge sharing and learning firsthand about innovative campaigns like Atmosphere’s is why Walker Sands is a member of PROI. It’s inspiring to see how agencies across the globe approach public relations. We, as well as our clients, benefit from this great international perspective.


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