In good spirits

Moët Hennessy Diageo is heading into new marketing territory with its premium whisky brand Johnnie Walker. Matt Eaton finds out what’s behind the renewed strategy.

In a market such as Hong Kong you’d be forgiven for thinking whisky sells itself. And for good reason. It is one of the top performing categories in the spirits market and holds strong ties to the local drinking culture.

But marketing in this category comes with its own set of hurdles, the biggest being the highly competitive nature of the market.

Brands such as Chivas Regal, Jack Daniel’s, Macallan and Glenfiddich compete head-to-head for their share of throat – yes, share of throat.

But whisky is also a category experiencing robust yearly growth across the board from premium to lower-tier brands.
And the fight for dominance is not getting any easier, according to Shaine DeVenny, managing director of Moët Hennessy Diageo Hong Kong.

Last year the category experienced 8% year-on-year growth and is expected to hit similar levels in 2011. This amounts to big dollars for holding groups such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard, which dominate the local market.

Last month Moët Hennessy Diageo, the category’s biggest player, set the stage for its revamped super-premium Johnnie Walker Blue Label brand, unveiling an exclusive Johnnie Walker-branded gallery at Space Gallery in Sheung Wan.

The House of Johnnie Walker saw some 500 VIP guests and celebrities invited to experience the “Blue journey” with the brand’s global ambassador Jonathan Driver.

The global relaunch was localised through partnerships with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, MSNs luxury portal, the American Chamber of Commerce and now TV.

“We wanted to explore the category and up the ante a bit. Johnnie Walker is a brand that let’s you do that,” DeVenny says.

And the ante is certainly being upped. The super-premium category is now a category in itself and marketing to high-end consumers is a sophisticated science. But DeVenny says rewarding their patronage is the key.

“Patronage is very important to us. This is the first time we have had a Johnnie Walker-branded gallery in Hong Kong and we see it as an opportunity to reward our top consumers for their patronage.”

The relaunch of the Blue Label comes amid a wider revamp of a number of Moët Hennessy Diageo brands, including Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve and its biggest selling vodka brand Smirnoff, which launched the Nightlife Exchange Project in collaboration with Madonna last month.

DeVenny says as market leader, you can never stand still.

“If you are a market leader, the onus is on you to excite consumers and maintain your market share. It’s a task you need to accept.”