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Keep Bullshitting

Keep Bullshitting

by Andy Davis / 06.01.2010

The thing about advertising is that it allows brands to tell tall stories. Fibs. Big, brazen bald face lies. It’s all about wishful thinking, positioning and myth making that, most of the time, has absolutely nothing to do with reality. If your friends stood around the braai and tried to do the same thing, you’d laugh and then mock them relentlessly. But somehow, we’re not that alert to the jive we’re told about brands on TV.

Take for example the Johnny Walker, “Keep Walking” ad that features during most live sports broadcasts and other prime time television. It starts with a guy walking and rolling a whisky barrel, striding confidently forward, and it says, “Johnny Walker 1840s”. Then we see the Wright Brothers pushing their plane and says, “Conquering Flight 1900s”. Then we see Chris Barnard walking into theatre and it says, “Heart Transplant 1960s”. Then there’s an astronaut, “Walking in Space 1960s”, then a vicious barking dog and a group of smartly dressed black people picketing, “Civil Rights 1960s”. Then we see the legs of a dignified bloke with a suitcase walking out of jail and it says, “Stepping into Freedom 1990s”. Then a queue of people and a guy walks to the ballot box and votes and it says “Healing a Nation 1990s”. Finally we see a very Obama-esque looking chap striding down a tree lined avenue with the words, “Imagine Where a Stride Can Take You” and then he morphs into the little golden Jiminy Cricket logo of the world’s biggest selling blended whisky and it says, “Keep Walking”.

Now what in hell does Johnny Walker have to do with any of the major events and achievements of our recent history? The answer is absolutely nothing. And yet we see the brand associated with everything from flight to heart transplants to space travel to the struggle for democracy, Mandela’s release, our peaceful transition to democracy and the election of America’s first black president. It’s like a vast, expensive corporate name-dropping exercise. But there’s absolutely no substantive relation between the whisky and all the famous people and moments they’re placing themselves alongside. It’s a bald and brutal exercise in fictitious association. Obviously the people at Johnny Walker’s marketing department want you to think that after his release from prison, Madiba kicked up his feet and slukked back some of their golden nectar before preparing himself for the Codesa negotiations.

Now why should Johnny Walker be singled out, when almost every other booze brand is involved in similar kinds of subterfuge. But while Chivas Regal’s, “live with chivalry campaign”, or VO Brandy’s attempt to associate themselves with an elevated and discerning black elite are a bit of a stretch, none of them take as many liberties with history as old Johnny Walker. It’s all a little bit like Forest Gump, except this is not pure entertainment, to be taken with a pinch of salt and suspended sense of disbelief. This is reality and it’s a carefully thought out marketing strategy that obfuscates reality with brand building and creates new, bogus relations between a whisky and history.

And if one was to have a hard look at the influence of Johnny Walker on history, would it be positive at all? Yes, while they want to associate themselves with world leaders and pivotal, heroic moments, would the biggest selling blended whisky brand really have anything positive to report? Perhaps a more realistic telling would be a list of almost famous people who almost achieved something with their lives but were thwarted by alcoholism.

Of course Johnny Walker and the people at Diageo, the world’s largest international beer, wine and spirits company, would recommend the responsible consumption of their product, but really this kind of associative piracy and make-believe marketing should be laughed at as derisively as your mate claiming to be the 6th Beatle, inventor of the high five or the inspiration behind Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Image © and courtesy Laugh It Off

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RESPONSES (42)
  1. Zorro says:

    So true. It’s a shame how we allow advertising to re-tell and re-shape our stories and history. Basically they play on our insecurities so you’re not cool if you don’t drink Johnny Walker Pink or Jagerbombs or wear the latest blahblahblingbling. C’mon people. You can still be beautiful and cool without all this shit.

    Aluta continua
    Z

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  2. rumpleforeskin says:

    What is particularly sad in South Africa is that the vast majority of creative media people get roped into the advertising industry because it is one of the only places where you can make a decent, stable income. So from an early age our most promising artistic minds are rewarded for selling us superficial bullshit instead of exploring the more important aspects of society by means of proper cinema or quality television documentaries. The media itself upholds this distorted notion of success by regularly featuring advertsing compaigns and interviewing the copywriters – Jeremy Maggs, there’s a seat in hell waiting for you. If we gave that much attention to people making independent film and interviewed them on the motives behind their narratives in the same way that we drool over “brand building initiatives” on these so-called “media-shows”, then maybe we’d live in a healthier and less maladjusted society than the crime-ridden and self-serving cesspool that South Africa is today.

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  3. monsoon says:

    ja.

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  4. Tomas says:

    “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” – Dr Johnson

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  5. Pop Will Top Himself says:

    Whilst it may lend to having more ‘cache’ by attributing the quote in the pic to HST, the truth is it’s in fact a quote from Samuel Johnson, an English author from the 17th century. Mind you, LIO never let such an old concept as veracity get in the way of impact.

    In other news, and somewhat related to the piece, does nobody else see the blind irony in liquor companies spouting that psuedo-virtuous bullshit line: ‘Drink Responsibly.’ I mean, in the history of oxymoronic statements, this has gotta be the motherfuckin heavyweight champion of the world. ‘We make our cash from you, Joe Average, drinking LOTS of our product. So we’d like you to drink. Lots. But please do so responsibly.’

    @Rumpleforeskin: fuckin A, polishing client turds is a stable income, if utterly debasing. Makes for awful moments when taking acid and staring in the mirror. Oy vey, I think I’m gonna resign and grow hydro in the hills…

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  6. Roger Young says:

    I’ve always wondered about that quote, I thought Dr Johnson was another of Thompson fictional creations (Which would mean ascribing the quote to Thompson would be valid) until I was about 22 and discovered Samuel Johnson. But then I went through a long list of thing attributed to Johnson and that quote doesn’t come up. Any clues?

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  7. Tomas says:

    No clues. But in Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas he ascribes it to Samuel Johnson, who was an 18th century Poet and, I believe, the author of the first English dictionary.

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  8. Roger Young says:

    I always thought it was a Samuel J quote, but Sam wasn’t a doctor and it’s not in any of his works. Maybe HST was just fucking with us, but probably not, maybe SJ was a doctor like HST was? And maybe it’s just in a more obscure section of work than I’ve managed to get my hands on.

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  9. Pop Will Top Himself says:

    Let’s be clear, Roger – HST wasn’t a doctor as in ‘nurse, scalpel please’, but rather as in ‘awarded an honorary doctorate by the Universal Life Church’, a (and I quote from the great Wiki here) ‘a religious organization that offers anyone semi-immediate ordination as a ULC minister free of charge.’

    I was married by a chaplain of the ULC. About as much a chaplain as Charlie. He got his certificate over the net, for ten dollar.

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  10. Roger Young says:

    That was the little joke I was making.

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  11. Keep wanking says:

    Spot on Andy. On the mark, as always.

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  12. davey says:

    The fundemental fact remains,no amount of creative writing will make a bad scotch good.

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  13. AT says:

    hold on. surely if we internalise the concept behind a brand, however bullshit it might be, we’re getting something out of it? so, if drinking peroni makes you feel like a superior yacht-floating jock, or drinking johnny walker makes you feel like you’re part of that elite band of brothers, then where’s the harm in that? think of it as the poor, or proud, man’s psychologist.

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  14. Plewk says:

    Gimme a break, AT! It’s more likely to make you feel a burning sense of injustice that you’re NOT part of the elite band of bros.

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  15. Graeme Feltham says:

    This erudite piece answers the questions aimed at it. Every mental institution has someone who thinks he is Elvis or Jesus. After this thorough deconstruction of the mythmaking machine that creates new ideas and fears and cements old ones – surely it is puerile to argue with Elvis because he paid a lot for a glitterati suit.

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  16. rumpleforeskin says:

    AT, you are Satan’s little helper. Surely something can’t be harmful if you can put a positive “spin” on it? How very postmodern, how very clever, how very hollow.

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  17. Graeme Feltham says:

    It’s incongruous that a lot of mahala’s readers – for the most part white middle class chumps – see value in reducing to ashes the very mindstreams that enable them. Perhaps 2010 is just all too much. Perhaps life has become too much.
    Or perhaps they are so STUPID as to see the words “fun” and “serious” as antonyms. Rendering them mere puppets. Still that’s better than thinking for yourself, isn’t it, you silly little closed twats.

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  18. keep walking johnny... says:

    great article.. thanks!!!

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  19. screaming doc hansen says:

    Old Mutual did an ad campaign where they quoted Einstein ( Albert – Physicist) as saying that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. Since force is as very well defined concept in Physics, right up there with mass and charge and so on, and unlikely to be confused with a calculation procedure used in usury, I wrote to them and subsequently to the ASA asking for the source of the quotation. OM sent me a link to another website with the same quotation but it was not a physics website or even a history website. It was another bank’s website ! I wrote again asking for a citation to a book and lecture and received only a snide comment that a simple internet search would turn up hundreds of results. So I searched for ” Einstein false quotation” and found that he has been misquoted all over the place. What is this shallow thinking that leads one to assume that because some figure is successful in one field, he should be an authority in others? Einstein was not even totally correct in the field of physics; he rejected quantum theory for many years. I did read a biography and according to records at Princeton he had to be reminded to cash his salary cheques before they went stale. Hardly the guy to comment on financial services (ugh!)
    I don’t have any OM policies any more.

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  20. rumpleforeskin says:

    Herr Feltham,

    Perhaps some of those enlightened readers are smart enough to realize that not everything perceived as “beneficial” in our current lifestyle is sustainable into the future. Fossil fuels and the immense luxuries that these afford are a prime example. There is a growing awareness amongst the educated, middle-class “twats” you refer to that much of what we enjoy today is due to the greed and laziness of previous generations. Perhaps it is the truly idiotic and selfish who refuse to consider and accept these realities, doggedly assuming in a fundamentalist biblical mindset that what was once accepted as good for previous civilizations must surely hold the same moral and ethical weight today, even though scientific discovery clearly indicates otherwise.

    So if that questioning mindset has some value when it comes to technology and politics, why should it not hold any value when it comes to the media?

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  21. AT says:

    wow rumple, that’s quite a little pedestal you’re perched on there. here’s the thing – rather than spend your whole life fighting things like branding and advertising, why not embrace them? bottom line is that unless you’re living naked in a mud hut in the transkei (we can dream), you’re part of the machine. i’m not saying sit back and passively absorb everything that comes your way or that, as you so eloquently decided to put into my mouth, something can’t be harmful if you can put a positive “spin” on it. which, by the way, is so ridiculously far from my argument it’s laughable. but where’s the problem with buying a polo shirt because it makes you feel good, or ordering a johnny on the rocks at your favourite bar because you identify with the brand? if it’s something that you enjoy, and that brings some form of enjoyment to your life, however false it might be, then why fight it simply for the sake of appearing to be the poster-boy for anti-consumerism, and the ever popular fuck-the-system mentality?

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  22. rumpleforeskin says:

    “if it’s something that you enjoy, and that brings some form of enjoyment to your life, however false it might be, then why fight it simply for the sake of…”

    vs

    “something can’t be harmful if you can put a positive ‘spin’ on it. which, by the way, is so ridiculously far from my argument it’s laughable”

    = spot the contradiction.

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  23. Graeme Feltham says:

    Okay metaphysical history lesson:

    Heraclitus (or Parmenides) – “Only that which never changes is real.”
    Parmenides (Or Heraclitus) – “Everything is in a state of flux.”

    =

    Lemnon – “Nothing is real. Strawberry fields forever.” Gettit?

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  24. Roger Young says:

    PKD – “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away”

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  25. Andy says:

    AT – do you think I wrote this to be, “the poster-boy for anti-consumerism, and the ever popular fuck-the-system mentality”?

    In fact Johnny Walker black is my whisky of choice while drowning my sorrows at aKing gigs et al. However I find their appropriation and wishful-association with all the good things in our history a little too brazen for a booze brand’s positioning. It’s make-believe. Much like those Sanlam radio ads that preface Virgin and Apple as similar brands. I drink JW-B primarily because I prefer the taste to J&B or Jamesons. Not because it makes me feel like Obama. The thing I find offensive is the spin that puts JW in the same sphere as Mandela, Obama, the Moon landing, the civil rights movement and the struggle against apartheid. They’re just a whisky. They have nothing to do with any of the pivotal moments in history. There’s a monumental disconnect. It’s disingenuous to say the least.

    Far better to just employ Vanilla Ice and let everyone have a laugh. At least there’s no lie or absurd and incoherent leaps of logic inherent in the communication.

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  26. Roger Young says:

    I think that all advertising would be made far better by employing Vanilla Ice.

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  27. Graeme Feltham says:

    Retro Roger writes: PKD – “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away”

    Such a passive stance. There are those parts of reality that can be blown into oblivion if need be. The methods are myriad. Your argument resembles that of a child’s actions. The child closes its eyes, hoping, hoping, hoping angainst hope it will go away only to be disapointed on opening his or her eyes once again.

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  28. AT says:

    andy, i actually agree with you, and in the case of the johnny ad i’m think you’re on the mark – it does bother me that they exploit folks from history for their brand, especially when there’s absolutely no causal link. so point taken. but we must also remember that the reason we consume or begin consuming products, which may or may not lead to us enjoying them, is almost always because of their position in the market – we are all slaves to the machine. but my chief argument, and problem, is with the comments following your article, which all seem to blindly jump on the anti-consumerism band wagon. anyway, speaking of bands, the folks over at absolut will be very disappointed to hear that their recent alignment with aking hasn’t been good enough to sway you from your tipple of choice.

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  29. Roger Young says:

    Feltham

    PKD = Philip K Dick.

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  30. rumpleforeskin says:

    “which all seem to blindly jump on the anti-consumerism band wagon”

    Would that be the bandwagon that people jump onto when they protest the existence of bandwagons? And people are recruited onto said bandwagon by means of a carefully contrived smoke ‘n mirrors campaign that makes them feel all sexy for not buying stuff as a substitute for happiness and contentment?

    Keep digging that hole, AT. Please don’t stop.

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  31. Graeme Feltham says:

    Wodja Wabbit – always knew you drew your supposed intelligence from Pentacostals among others.

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  32. desist!! says:

    Feltham – enough already!!!

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  33. The Oracle says:

    Andy, I look forward to you having a big go at the bankers and their advertising crap.
    “You and us” …. “you, us, together” …. etc … what they mean is you get screwed by us.
    The tragedy is that all the grannies trust them and believe that the bankers are on
    their side but actually the bankers are against us all ! What a load of bullshit.
    Keep up the good work. You are on your own in life. Everyone is against you but
    most spend their time (and advertising dollars) trying to convince you otherwise.
    Caveat emptor.

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  34. Graeme Feltham says:

    Desist!!!! It’s never enough.
    Google my name for some real writing. okey, okey, okey?

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  35. Graeme Feltham says:

    Dear rumpleforeskin time for your lobotocircumscision. Preferably at a fly-by-night initiation. Get a discount for dispensing with sterility, since you seem to have enough for all to go around – psychically, mentally, etherically.

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  36. desist!! says:

    Feltham – please find something more useful to do with your time.

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  37. Nathan Zeno says:

    desist! you mean something more useful to do with OUR time.

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  38. rockmanloverman says:

    The thing about advertising is, like many social institutions, it needs to be kept in check with critique, analysis and cynicism.

    The thing about advertising is that it also helps support democratic free speech by funding the media. Such as this site.

    The thing about advertising is that it supports competition, which stops people selling crap products and helps keep prices down.

    The thing about advertising is that by supporting competition it can help economies grow, which helps fund things like schools, hospitals and the police.

    The thing about advertising is that it needs to be decent, legal, honest and truthful.
    The thing about the Johnny Walker campaign isn’t that they are saying ‘these people drink Johnny Walker’, in the same way that the celebrated Apple ‘Here’s to the crazy ones’ campaign wasn’t saying that Ghandi used an Apple. They are wanting to associate themselves with the values that these people represent – perseverance, endurance and commitment. Values that probably are appreciated in the production of an aged whiskey, which is why they want to associate themselves with it. These feel like rather positive decent values, the sort of thing Mahala might support in its community work. Johnny Walker could have associated themselves with some superficial conspicuous symbols of material achievement and wealth that may indeed have merited the cynicism of the article. But they didn’t.

    Keep biting the hands that feed. It needs to be bitten. However, in this case a deeper analysis of the Johnny Walker work may have revealed less bullshit and perhaps something a bit more socially positive. Which maybe, just maybe, should be encouraged.

    Happy New Year Kenny 😉

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  39. ahem says:

    perhaps this is just symptomatic of the fact that the entire concept of an advertising industry is a crock of shit. how when a frightening percentage of our population lives without drinking water and electricity, toilet facilities and food, can such sickening amounts be spent on advertising. it’s not like the money’s filtering down – it’s making ad industry fat cats fatter and widening the income gap. but you all know that already.

    the point of my story is, andy: totally.

    aluta continua!

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  40. Jannie Loper says:

    It’s Johnnie Walker…IE not Y

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