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Do Women Need Jane Walker?

Is Jane Walker just another example of the ‘Lady Doritos‘ and ‘Bic for Her‘ school of marketing, or do women really need a lady on the bottle to be told it’s ok to drink whisky?

News emerged this week that the world’s largest whisky producer, Diageo, will launch a special bottle of its famous Johnnie Walker brand, labelled ‘Jane Walker’ in the US next month to coincide with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day.

The bottle will contain the standard 12-year-old Black Label blend, but will carry the image of a top-hatted ‘striding woman’ instead of the iconic ‘striding man’ logo that was first introduced in 1908:

Jane Walker and Johnnie Walker, striding man and woman
Nice to see she’s not in a bikini or dressed like a pin-up I guess.

Launching the special edition bottles, Stephanie Jacoby, vice president of Johnnie Walker told Bloomberg: “Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women.  It’s a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand.”

Is this true?  And if so, does special lady packaging solve the problem?  At least two female journalists leapt in to pour scorn on the idea:

“Interested in getting into scotch, but feeling a little scared of the manly dirt-tasting brown drink? The makers of Johnnie Walker are here to help! ” – Kelly Faircloth, Jezebel.

“Perhaps if they put a woman on the scotch bottle, then Ladies like myself would know scotch is an appropriate choice. I believe the term is “pandering,” but I am just an intimidated Lady, so correct me if I am wrong!” – Maura Judkis, Washington Post.

Granted, whisky may not be the most popular drink amongst women – the share of U.S. whisky drinkers who are women hovers at around 30% and hasn’t moved much in the last eight years – but does that have anything to do with a lack of ladies on the bottles?  I mean a quick look at my shelf shows me bottles bearing dogs, mice, monkeys, oysters and moody Scottish scenery.  Which, if any, of these are inherently masculine images?

All snark aside (well, some), Diageo is actually building a good reputation for its work in promoting gender equality in the workplace.  With four female directors on its board of ten, it will reach gender parity in April 2018 when Ursula Burns starts her role as Non-Executive Director.  The business also ranks third in the FTSE100 for women in leadership roles.  Beyond Diageo, the scotch whisky sector is also pretty gender diverse as a whole with a growing number of senior roles in all areas of the business filled by women.  I wonder how many of them will be excited to pick up a bottle of Jane Walker?  Or would agree that they had previously been “intimidated” by whisky?

Given the positive story the industry and Diageo, in particular, have to tell on equality, they really don’t have to resort to lazy PR grabs like Jane Walker to “celebrate women”.  I mean Jane Walker wasn’t even a real person.  Just a small amount of research would have shown that Johnnie had a wife called Elizabeth.  Presumably this didn’t fit the vision of the marketing department, who appear to have been unwilling to give up on the initials of the global brand, or were just looking for a lazy ‘Jane Doe’ style everywoman character rather than a real woman with a genuine link to the history of the industry.

Granted Diageo have committed to donating up to $250,000 ($1 from every $34 bottle of Jane Walker sold) to organisations supporting women’s causes.  On an unrelated note, Diageo’s operating profit rose 25% to £3.6bn for the year ending in June 2017, with net sales of £12.1bn.  Still, $250k is a small price to pay for all this free publicity on the back of #metoo and International Women’s Day.

For what use is the critically important battle against sexual harassment, and the celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and a push for progress on gender parity if it can’t also be used to cash in, some forty years after The Clash first lashed out against the trend for “turning rebellion into money”?

But then speaking of Johnnie Walker publicity, at least we have come a long way from these 1988 advertisements:

Anyway, can anyone get me a bottle of Jane Walker?  I bet it’ll be worth a fair amount in a few years.