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Johnnie Walker: Haile Gebrselassie

Watch the making of as well.

Advertising Agency: King James, Cape Town, South Africa
Creative Director: Michael Wilson
Art Director: Janine Wittrowski
Copywriter: Michael Wilson
Agency Producer: Kathi Jones
Production Company: Giant Films, Cape Town, South Africa
Director: Ian Gabriel
Executive Producer: Cindy Gabriel
Aired: November 2010

34 comments

CuriousPencil's picture
CuriousPencil
4227 pencils

Poor guy.

This copywriter will forever be associated with a spot that had an athlete utter the misleading opening words "I had to run to school every day," making any intelligent viewer respond "why didn't you leave earlier?" And this, to lead up to the tag 'Keep walking". This makes hand-in-hand hilarity in parity with the Schindler's List 'red shirt' identifier that should be on any art director's Watch List.

I really hope, but regreftully doubt, that this is scam.

Poor, guys.

CuriousPencil's picture
CuriousPencil
4227 pencils

Re-reading, this sounds harsh. But then there's the entirely misleading association between successful athleticism and alcohol. We all know the beer-coin's a tricky client to flip into winning, given the restrictions. Am flabbergasted that this is even a semi-serious attempt at conning a public - even our mostly-vapid public - into buying this most delicious product that will make you slick, sexy, popular, conversationally superior and great in bed. Despite your never having imbibed it in a country where it isn't available given its expense and import-rarity.

Guest's picture
Guest

Are you saying this brand is not available in Ethiopia? Not correct, very broadly available across the country.

morse's picture
morse
16480 pencils

You have a point. Alcohol and sports don't mix. Also, the running and walking don't fit either. If this was for another brand the ad would be great.

.. / .-.. --- ...- . / .- -.. ...- . .-. - .. ... .. -. --.

CuriousPencil's picture
CuriousPencil
4227 pencils

Totally.

Shoes, much?

Guest's picture
Guest

Metaphor anyone? The journey of life? The Johnnie Wallker campaign ( Branson, Robert Carlysle Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton etc doesn't feature a single 'walker'

Guest's picture
Guest

If you going to make a commercial for Johnny Walker starring an athlete, at least pick a professional speedwalker, not a professional runner..

Guest's picture
Guest

Another example of a great ad made for the wrong brand/product. I'm tired of companies that really don't add any value to society putting out "epic" or historical/emotional advertising, only to be told at the end that it was a liquor or computer company that's telling the story.

Maybe Johnnie Walker should instead be funding programs to bring clean water to Africa rather than something that's not going to help. I love having a drink but I don't want to think of this guy when I do. I want to think of him when I put on my running shoes or drink my carb-rich energy drink. 2 stars (would have been 9 if this was a Nike ad).

Guest's picture
Guest

I just don't get what this has to do with Whiskey?????

Whiskey is a low energy product which you enjoy mainly sitting down or in a bar....not running

Probably the worst mix you could have

backwork's picture
backwork
6 pencils

walking including :For sport, jogging, integrity, stretching, gait, etc.
so i think there is not fix. just take out sprite.

Cesar Hector's picture
Cesar Hector
217 pencils

Aren’t we being a little too vertical with this ad? I mean aren’t Johnnie Walker ads supposed to be always inspirational in some point? I think you can’t always be talking about the product and its intrinsic benefits because brands have become more important to the people, and it’s essential to invite consumers to spend time with the brand so that not only the minds and market places are conquered but the hearts, love is a forever-lasting relationship. And don’t forget that to be loved you have to first be different from the rest.

CuriousPencil's picture
CuriousPencil
4227 pencils

A very lenient point Cesar; I don't know. I see ads today the same way I did before I was involved in making them: through the way they work, or don't. Your perspective seems lofty, theoretical and dreamy to me, but I may have lain on the ground too often to see how the land lies - really, I don't know; I almost want to lean into your side of the argument, but I'm sceptical that you might be trying to sell me something...

CuriousPencil's picture
CuriousPencil
4227 pencils

Now I've had the benefit of less beer some hours after my earlier post, no.

No to start, you don't have to be different from the rest to be loved, as your mother will tell you.

And no, Johnnie Walker ads aren't "supposed" to be anything that our breed doesn't make them: when we "invite consumers to spend time with the brand" we have an intrinsic duty of care in this specific case that people who want to become world-class athletes see our work and don't become accidental alcoholics.

So no, to introduce anaphora to anyone who doesn't know it, you *can* and must always be talking about the product and its intrinsic benefits, albeit cloaked within and behind as wonderful spinning visual and textual mechanisms and metaphors we can conjure, but never lies. Never lies, because we're a self-policing motherfucker, and Oedipus is watching.

Temple's picture
Temple
10587 pencils

Nice ad, excellent strategy.

Guest's picture
Guest

Yeah right. I, too, only work out so I have the stamina and will power to survive yet another binge.

dadada's picture
dadada
1720 pencils

sport for selling alcohol :(

Everybody is creative, be yourself.

Guest's picture
Guest

Been to a sport bar lately? Great health drinks! Alcohol is a major sport sponsor. You scratch my back I scratch yours.

Guest's picture
Guest

Nice ad. Others in the series for Johnnie Walker include Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Robert Carlyle, all welding a metaphorical enough use of the keep walking phrase to fit their own occupations with the the Brands self positioning call to get out, do something, get something done. If he chose to run twenty kilometers to school that makes him a Johnnie Walker kind of guy- leaving earlier wouldn't have helped? Yes its an alcohol brand playing on the idea of the get out and do something striding man.

Guest's picture
Guest

Doesn't work for me.

Guest's picture
Guest

Curious Pencil just didn't listen to the copy. The athlete says 'I had to run 20 kilometers to school and back every day' . He's not talking about time, or about 'leaving earlier', he's talking about distance a very common challenge confronting children in Africa who have to cover long distance on foot to get to school. A positive message about life is always of value, especially out of Africa. Get real. What product ever tried to sell itself by associating with a negative message?

CuriousPencil's picture
CuriousPencil
4227 pencils

I did listen to the copy, "Guest". And I know that I overanalysed it, but you know what? The issues you refer to are real, and the challenges of learning in Africa are huge, and having this role model as a spokesman for education issues *would* be a fine thing. But it's not an ad for education, it's an ad for whiskey, so even the most laudable efforts in bringing these issues to light become self-defeating and fall laughably flat. It's not raising awareness of anything apart from a misfired message.

Guest's picture
Guest

The value that has a whole lot to do with whiskey drinking in general and Johnnie Walkers Striding Man icon in particular is the idea of SUCCESS. This is nothing new, alcohol advertizing has always been about ''being successful'. In company, in bed, in cars etc. Johnnie Walker has modernized that idea with their Walking with Giants campaign. Whiskey has' nothing to do' with acting ( Robert Carlyle) business ( Richard Branson) motor sport (Lewis Hamilton) Distance Running ( Haile Gebrselassie ) etc. Its a premium brand - it has everything to do with success and self belief.

Guest's picture
Guest

So in your alcohol advertizing book, if the ad is not about the benefit ie social success,being cool, beautiful girls, making money, its null and void? Is that it?

krautland's picture
krautland
3220 pencils

Haile Gebrselassie is my hero. the little man from ethiopia who always could. I agree that this is the wrong product for the current marathon world champion to be associated with but they are faithful to his story and at least doing a decent job at executing it. that doesn't mean they couldn't have made an ad a million times better than this.

What the utterly literal Curious Pencil (what are you, an account guy?) doesn't know is that Haile is famous for his '20 miles to school' story. it's what formed his running style. he is the only marathoner to bend his arms back as if he was still carrying books. it's his iconic move. not to be talking about this would identify you as someone who doesn't know the first thing about people who care about the marathon and haile.

CuriousPencil's picture
CuriousPencil
4227 pencils

I hadn't heard the 20 miles story, and I'm not an account guy and know little about the marathon or Haile. My literal take on this ad is nothing to do with attacking or demeaning the runner's life or achievements, it's entirely about the effectiveness of this as an ad for a client who sells whiskey. And I still say it doesn't work.

Guest's picture
Guest

The way I see it, It is not about sports, it is a life journey. It is about being inspired to think more and to dream higher. And by relaxing you can reach those dreams. Can't you all relax or be inspired by a drink? I like it a lot.

Guest's picture
Guest

Sometimes gaining consumer trust and confidence is by telling a compelling story, something that represents the VALUES of the brand, and not necessarily the product itself. In JW’s instance, a brand who for one can get access to arguably the best distance runner who has ever lived, is the first step in notifying your audience of your brand strengths and qualities. Secondly JW’s “Keep Walking” campaign with other sports celebrities, namely the two biggest names in Formula One, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, is doing extremely well globally, so why not keep the good times going?

In Haile’s case, being the first African Giant (walk with giants campaign), yes that place Africa (where by the way @CuriousPencil Johnnie Walker has not only pioneered the first step into one of the next biggest & fastest emerging markets in the world, its certainly no “import-rarity”, do your research). Haile has overcome huge obstacles in his life time, his story is universal and compelling, no-one can object that bringing that to screens globally, even in the form of a brand ad, is a thing to be frowned upon, the man is a living legend.

Nelson Mandela's story has inspired Johnnie Walker commercials in the past.. Gebrselassie could be, in my view, a future president, he is adored by 60 Million Ethiopian people. How many brands can get presidents to endorse their products, especially alcoholic ones?

That’s maximum brand positioning respect my view.

Brilliant foresight.

CuriousPencil's picture
CuriousPencil
4227 pencils

Again, "Guest", thank you for the extra background to this, re Button/Hamilton: their being drivers does give this approach a wider stance that isn't as easily toppled as my first reaction would have it. I suppose if I'd 'done my research' and analysed the activities of the brand in minute detail before watching only the ad above, I'd be more aware of its aims before offering an opinion.

I also wasn't aware of the 'pioneering' work from JW in penetrating the continent with their "Values", nor of those values, brand strengths or qualities. All I saw and see is a client with access to a conduit to 60 million consumers who, without the insight you present here, might just mistake the ad for their idol telling them to buy JW. Silly me.

Guest's picture
Guest

Which is why he doesn't sell the brand, he tells the viewers aptly enough, to 'keep walking' in order to get ahead in life.

CuriousPencil's picture
CuriousPencil
4227 pencils

Not sure if this is the same "Guest" as earlier (so difficult to tell these days, there being so many invisible people with stentorian opinions) but can you explain how he's not selling the brand when he's in an ad for the product? I'm not as green as I'm cabbage-looking, so I heavily suspect that viewers of this ad seeing Haile Gebrselassie and Johnnie Walker in the same spot will be drawn to believe they're somehow connected. Maybe some of them will think to themselves "hey, what an aspirational story, what a role model, I'm inspired to go and get ahead in life." And then next time they're in the liquor store they see a bottle of JD and remember the story, and they spend money on JD. Because of the aspirational story and Haile Gebrselassie as "he tells the viewers[,] aptly enough, to 'keep walking' in order to get ahead in life.

Tell me the part where Haile Gebrselassie didn't play a part of this transaction, leading as he has, from the top of the impulse chain that ended in a guy buying a bottle. Tell me, "Guest" how Haile Gebrselassie "doesn't sell the brand." And tell me what kind of arrangement you think Haile Gebrselassie had with Johnny Walker - do you imagine a JW rep said "we want to make an ad to inspire people, we won't pay you because you won't be selling anything" or, as is more likely the case, money changed hands because JW knew that sales would increase. Ergo, Haile Gebrselassie sells the brand.

Guest's picture
Guest

if we consider a will-power story to be inappropriate for an alcohol brand, let's explore the next level of absurdity: we should consider that the very name of the brand is a total mistake for such a product. so welcome to the realm of over-thinking-is-the-killer-of-thinking.
i suggest johnnie crawler. it would make a perfect nonsense.

Guest's picture
Guest

Brilliant

Guest's picture
Guest

Just do it. Just keep Walking. Simplicity wins over all this adspeak

ABYSSINIAN's picture
ABYSSINIAN
2 pencils

CURIOUS PENCIL, I TINK I UNDERSTAND WAT U R TRYING TO SAY BUT FROM AN ETHIOPIANS POINT OF VIEW, THIS IS HUGE MAN. HE IS STRIDING ALONGSIDE GIANTS AS HE IS A GIANT IN HIS COUNTRY AND HE IS BEING RECOGNISED INTERNATIONNALY NOW. OF KORSE ITS STILL AN AD FOR WISKEY BUT LETS NOT FORGET THE GIST OF THE WHOLE TING WHICH IS KEEP WALKING AND DO SOMETING WT UR LIFE.
AND GUEST, UR ARE VERY RITE, THIS IS A LIFE JOURNEY WE ARE TALKING ABOUT NOT JUST AN AD. FINE DRINK IF U MUST BUT ALWAYS DO IT SAFE. RESPONSIBILITY IS THE WORD HERE. AND THE OTHER IS ABOUT LEWIS HAMILTON AND ALL, THE 2 FORMULA 1 DRIVERS ARE ON AN INTERNATIONNAL CAMPAIGH FOR A DONT DRINK AND DRIVE AD TYPE OF TING.

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