Jan 1, 2010
Johnnie Walker History
(This Image is Property of Johnnie Walker)
The Pioneers' Story Here's the story of the early days - not about the bricks and mortar, but about the people who still provide inspiration today. Three generations of the Walker family each took defining steps along the road to making Johnnie Walker® a world-famous Scotch Whisky. There are some compelling parallels between them and today's great entrepreneurs. The Walker family took risks, survived wars and floods, and fought off the threat of Prohibition. And perhaps their greatest achievement is that their story is still an inspiring one today. July 25, 2005 marked a milestone in the history of Johnnie Walker®, the world’s number one Scotch Whisky brand, as it celebrated the birth of its founder and namesake, John Walker. Two hundred years ago, Walker was born, and not long after, the recipe for the world’s favorite Scotch Whisky brand was created.
A Brand Is Born Walker’s story began in Kilmarnock, Scotland, a humble beginning for what would later become a global dynasty. As a young man, Walker left the family farm to follow his entrepreneurial spirit. He became a grocer, trading a wide variety of goods; tea was his specialty. It was his skill at blending tea leaves that gave Walker the idea for blending
grain and malt whiskies to create a smoother drink and more consistent quality.
Walker’s son Alexander continued to build the family Scotch Dynasty, when he joined the family business in 1856. Advertising had not yet caught on as a marketing vehicle, so Walker turned to other means to make the product memorable to consumers. In 1867, Alexander registered his signature black and gold slanting label, a design that is strikingly similar to the present Black Label®. When copyrights became available in 1876, Walker added that measure of protection. By that time, Walker's whisky was already in its characteristic and revolutionary square bottle.
Competition was fierce – even from products of lesser quality – but Alexander was not concerned. "Other brands may come into the market for a while, but as far as we're concerned, we will make John Walker and Sons of such a quality that no other whisky
shall come before it," Alexander famously promised.
Upon his death in 1889, Alexander Walker passed on the business to his three sons: John, George Paterson and Alexander II. It was Alexander II who continued the family expertise in blending, while George bears responsibility for the marketing innovation that endures today.
An Icon Emerges The earliest ads for the Walker family whisky appeared in the late 1800s. However, it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that the familiar Walker & Sons logo was born. In 1909, George Walker hired popular cartoonist Tom Browne to create a logo. For his subject, Browne turned to a likeness of John Walker. Initially attired in a top hat, waistcoat and high boots, the famous figure has changed his clothes several times and even adopted a few positions, but he has continued to communicate progress and forward movement – two attributes that are still championed by the brand today.
To accompany the Striding Man, the tagline “Keep Walking” was later incorporated and is undeniably one of the most memorable world-wide advertising campaigns today. It captures the journey of progress and showcases Johnnie Walker’s commitment to
evolution and success. The original line “Born 1820, still going strong” used in 1908 may no longer be in print, but it too still holds true today.
A Portfolio Approach While George was creating marketing campaigns to grab consumer attention, his brother was creating a product worthy of the effort; Alexander II pursued his love of blending with a passion. In 1906, John Walker & Sons offered three blends of "Old Highlands Whisky": the basic blend with a white label; "Extra Special Old Highland" with a red label; and "Walkers Old Highland Whisky," 12 years old, with a black label. In 1909, the brands were renamed to appeal to consumer preference for calling for the spirit by their colored labels; White Label, Red Label® and Black Label® were born.
By 1920 and the end of the First World War, White Label had been retired so the company could pursue more upscale and discerning consumers. Sir Alexander had been knighted, and the company was facing the challenge of "going global." With a
global reach of some 120 countries, Johnnie Walker achieved world-wide prominence well in advance of even Coca-Cola®.
By that time, John Walker & Sons had merged with the Distillers Co. Ltd., to extend distribution throughout the world. The arrangement, begun in 1925, lasted until the late 1980s, when the holding company, which changed its name to United Distillers, merged with Guinness.