A few thoughts on Jane Walker, the new Johnnie Walker release

let’s begin

Jane Walker. There's a lot of chat out there about this new product Diageo has released for Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, which is essentially a Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year old in a limited edition pack design.

I’m struggling to work out why Diageo has launched this new version of Johnnie Walker Black Label named The Jane Walker Edition. In my head I am torn. It is a good tribute and interesting way of celebrating International Women’s Day, especially as they are donating $1 from each bottle sale to “organisations championing women’s causes, with a total donation of up to $250,000, including a donation of $150,000 to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund and its Monumental Women campaign.  Monumental Women, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a monument honoring America’s women suffragists in New York City’s Central Park, where there are 23 statues of historical figures but not one honoring a real woman” as well as a portion of proceeds going to She Should Run, who are dedicated to inspiring women to run for office, but a large part of me feels it is a missed opportunity for the brand to do something really quite special here.

The press release stated that this is “the first-ever female iteration of the brand’s iconic Striding Man logo. The Jane Walker icon will debut on a special-edition offering of our award-winning Black Label blend. Johnnie Walker Black Label The Jane Walker Edition will be available to whisky fans in the US nationwide beginning in March to coincide with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day celebrations“.

Over the last 24 hours I’ve spoken to a number of people, male and female, and posted a couple of questions about the product on Instagram and Facebook about this and their views and the unifying response is how patronising this is; changing the name of the product and doing a limited edition packaging design of the same liquid, as they do with Blue Label many times a year around the world with different limited edition packaging releases being sold in various territories around the world… but why not go one further and do the limited edition pack design, keeping the name to avoid all this ambiguous storytelling, but where all profits go to help the cause, not just $1?

More than this, calling the bottle Jane Walker seems even more contrived as there never was a Jane Walker, but in the history of the Johnnie Walker brand there were two key female figures who would easily have been deserving of a limited edition bottling in their honour, namely Elizabeth Walker, the wife of John Walker, who was instrumental in the creation of the original blend that went on to become the Johnnie Walker signature whisky, and also Elizabeth Cumming, from whom the Cardhu Distillery was bought (this is where the core malt component for Johnnie Walker is distilled, in case you were unaware).

Well, at least they didn’t go as far as making it a “ladies” blend or some sh*t. Some of my most knowledgeable and astute clients are women who love Laphroiag and they cringe at the notion of someone telling them that there is such thing as a scotch for women. Now, this is not that, but it screams patronizing none the less,” said @just_a_wee_dram Instagram.

@WhiskeyJedi, from the US, commented that “[I] thought this was a joke at first. It just shows how out of touch Diageo has become with the industry. Women who drink whiskey drink regular old whiskey, not “whiskey for ladies”. This is even more offensive than that ‘Whiskey Girl’s flavored whiskies with the lipstick on the label“. @MaltReview went further to describe it as “a patronising, insincere cash in. Highlights the lack of anything useful to say. When a focus group spirals out of control“.

Then is it the case that there were a load of good intentions here, just somehow executed in a way that has not connected as intended? @rhframe thinks so, saying “I find it patronising! It does draw attention to the fact that whisky isn’t currently marketed to women though. Not sure they meant that and quite sure they wanted to cash in“, with @gclaywhittaker describing it as “a poorly executed, tone deaf destination on a road paved with some good intentions“.

I think @markofrespect said it best with the comment: “At least it wasn’t a pink bottle. It feels like a cynical attempt to tag on to the very valid empowerment movement. But are they saying a woman couldn’t enjoy a Johnnie Walker? For anyone saying ‘oh but this creates debate’, perhaps but I’d argue that the debate is already there and this is a t shirt slogan version of it designed to see a product, not a profound world leading change“. And @megansnowco commented that “I get what they are trying to do, but as a woman, I’m curious why I need a special bottle to justify drinking whisky?

Curiously, not one comment that came back said they thought it was a good idea, this is not me being intentionally negative about this release as I’m a big fan of Johnnie Walker as both a product and a brand, and the people behind the brand work tirelessly to get positive messages out there and for the most part do an incredible job.

I just genuinely do not know what the right answer is here, but it feels just plain odd to me that at a time when so much focus is on #MeToo and #TimesUp movements around the world that releasing something to piggyback on really important and just social causes feels so forced and insincere, especially given that it is based around a fictional character instead of a woman who already imbues the entrepreneurial amongst other respected qualities such as Elizabeth Walker and Elizabeth Cumming – or even Helen Cumming who used to run the distillery and is as famous a figure in whisky folklore.

What is also interesting, as noted by Becky Paskin in her brilliant column here, Diageo, as with Bacardi, is consistently noted for “its work in promoting gender equality in the workplace, and has been named among the best companies in the FTSE100 for the number of women on boards and in leadership roles”, yet this just does not hit the mark for me.

Originally, when TMZ, who broke the news said in their article that “the ‘Jane Walker’ concept had been touted in 2016, around the time of the US presidential election, though it was scrapped after Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump”. Interesting.

The big thing here is that it does demonstrate progress and does demonstrate that the whisky industry is behind women, which is great news, just executionally I’m not so sure. I sincerely hope the campaign, and limited edition Jane Walker bottle raises lots of money for this great cause.

I’m keen to hear your thoughts on this Jane Walker release, the movements it is associating itself with and what that means for your view on the Johnnie Walker brand. 

Here’s an alternative take on Jane Walker from the States…

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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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3 thoughts on “A few thoughts on Jane Walker, the new Johnnie Walker release”

  1. Thank you for this. Thank you so much. So very well written. We are JW fans, and I (a woman) am the primary purchaser of JW in my household. I just found the Jane Walker series and thought it was cool until I read your article—I had no idea it’s the same formula and really not a special edition. Also, absolutely agree it would have been better to name it after a real woman involved in their history. It is nice the brand is trying, yet their execution leaves a lot to be desired.


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