Keep Bullshittingby 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