According to Glamour magazine, “Johnnie Walker announced that it would be changing its famous label from a male ‘Johnnie’ to a female ‘Jane Walker’ for Women’s History Month, in an attempt to lure more female drinkers in and to ‘honor’ women. The thing is, women don’t need convincing or an invitation.” Forbes says 30-40% of consumers of scotch, blends, and bourbons are women.
But, then there’s this from Forbes contributor Tara Nurin: “Johnnie Walker’s Jane Edition Fights For Women’s Equality, Not Against It…While I appreciate the media and internet outcry against what many perceive as pandering or patronizing…I think the outrage here is misplaced. Instead of excoriating Johnnie Walker’s parent company, Diageo, we should commend its effort, which includes psychological and financial components that push women to ‘keep walking’ – as the whisky’s marketing slogan instructs – toward total empowerment.”
So, is this PR-producing label good or bad? That’s in the eye of the beholder. It certainly is calling attention to the brand. One reason it’s so subjective is that different corporate philosophies dictate the advisability of making this kind of move, or not. In many ways, it’s about risk tolerance. More “progressive companies” may see this both as a way to amp up sales and do on-the-fly research for future campaigns. Conservative firms may want to play it safe and stay away from controversy as much as possible.
How does being controversial, or not, line up with an overall reputation management policy? All companies should have a detailed policy in place for handling good, bad, and ugly reputation reports.Once in place, this policy should provide generally clear direction to drive marketing strategies and campaigns. It also needs to state protocols for responding to negative (as well as positive) reports. Drawing up and/or reviewing a reputation management policy brings up important philosophical issues for product manufacturers to consider. Among them are:
Risk tolerance. In the case of my former Ringling boss, the die was somewhat cast. By nature, there will be controversial and catastrophic reports given the nature of a circus. So, in essence, roll with what comes. In the product manufacturing world, there is generally much more room for low-key presence. However, low-key can correlate to low recognition and ineffective branding – so where on the continuum do you want to land? Perhaps the best answer can come from some prudent “testing” of different ideas that may be a bit more avant garde than normal. Trying out labels with a design and/or verbiage scheme that’s a substantial departure from tradition can be a place to start. Wading into social, political, or gender issues, such as Johnnie Walker has, bears watching to assess the overall outcome.
Future direction. What are company plans near-and-mid-term? If angling for rapid growth in order to sell, how much are you willing to gamble on an all-or-nothing branding strategy? If looking to maintain long-term ownership, how safe do you want to play it so as not to rock a steady boat?
Stakeholder buy-in. How will stakeholders view a particular strategy? Should you survey these constituencies to see what they support? There’s a strong case to be made for this approach, tying to overall reputation management and marketing/branding development. By taking the temperature of diverse stakeholder groups, you can also gain valuable insight about where everyone stands and make decisions accordingly. If, for example, employees favor a more colorful and potentially risky approach but shareholders flatly oppose it, what should you do? These are two extremely important groups to ultimate success or failure. Are there areas where both can agree or is this a mutually exclusive situation? This exercise actually can prove highly valuable across all areas of the company inasmuch as it encourages getting extensive input from many different people and mindsets.
In the end, consider using a “Jane Walker label” type of topic to spur everyone of importance in your organization to weigh in and be heard. In addition to information-gathering and taking the temperature of the entire organization, giving people a chance to be heard and acknowledged can boost morale, productivity and loyalty.
Mark Lusky is a marketing communications professional who has worked with Lightning Labels, an all-digital custom label printer in Denver, CO, USA, since 2008. Find Lightning Labels on Facebook for special offers and label printing news.