Red Label whisky bottles

Outside Britain, whisky is seen as trendy, says Diageo


is giving Johnnie Walker Red Label whisky a new look backed by a £7.2m marketing push in a bid to win over younger drinkers - and regain lost ground in the UK whisky market.

It hopes to “challenge the perception whisky is an old man’s drink” with the brand’s first UK TV ads in 50 years, starting next month.

The drinks giant said the activity, which will be aimed at 25 to 35-year-olds, would help bring British whisky culture in line with the rest of the world, where the spirit was perceived as trendy and often enjoyed in a long mixed drink.

In addition to a new bottle design, Diageo is introducing the Johnnie Red & Ginger signature serve that combines Johnnie Walker Red Label and ginger ale.

Red Label is currently a minor player in the UK, with retail sales of just £3.5m in a blended whisky market worth £808.4m [Nielsen 52 w/e 18 August 2013], but is the number one whisky brand globally, with sales of $5.8bn (£3.6bn).

The push comes as Diageo’s Bell’s whisky continues to lose ground to The Famous Grouse, which is up 12.9% in value on the back of NPD and heavy promotional activity, while Bell’s has slumped 6.3% [Nielsen].

Diageo senior category development manager Katherine Abram said the Johnnie Walker activity would be “about growing the total whisky category”, rather than a riposte to The Famous Grouse. However, growth in Red Label would help Diageo regain share in the mainstream market.

A marketing push could help clarify Red Label’s “rather vague image in the UK”, added Mintel senior drinks analyst Chris Wisson,

The brand could also help premiumise blended whisky, suggested one senior supermarket buyer. “Many customers think of blends as standard and malts as premium - when blends too can be premium.”