Diageo: Online Documentaries Sell Dreams, Not Whiskey


Diageo is a UK-based alcoholic beverages company with a collection of brands ranging from Smirnoff vodka to Johnnie Walker whiskey to Guinness beer. Diageo entered China in 1995 and established its official Greater China Hub (Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) in Shanghai by 2002. The whiskey market in particular is an area of focus for Diageo given the high rate of growth in this segment (from 2005 to 2010 whiskey sales in China grew by 125% – reaching 17.5 billion yuan in 2010 according to Euromonitor). Diageo aims to shape Johnnie Walker into a premier brand for Chinese consumers ages 25-35; however, it faces fierce competition from Pernod Ricard’s Chivas brand. To compete with Pernod Ricard and other foreign players Diageo has gone to such extremes as to open the “House of Johnnie Walker” in Shanghai – a four-story retail and entertainment outlet to expose wealthy consumers to the Johnnie Walker lifestyle.


Pernod Ricard already established itself in China by promoting “Chivas-and-Green-Tea” as a drink of choice for patrons at Chinese bars and karaoke clubs. In order to win more of China’s emerging whiskey drinkers, Diageo had to display Johnnie Walker as more than a beverage, it had to create an experience.


Johnnie Walker partnered with acclaimed Chinese director Jia Zhangke to produce a series of brief documentaries titled the “Yulu Project”. The documentaries feature 12 individuals from different backgrounds, who all share one thing in common – they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their dream. One example is Zhou Yunpeng, a blind folk singer and poet who recounts the challenges he faces on his path to performing professionally. Xiao Peng (see video below) has a different dream, he seeks to create a successful company after returning to China from his studies overseas. Excluding a brief opening and ending scene of each documentary, there is no mention of drinking whiskey or of the Johnnie Walker brand. At the end of the video segment a Johnnie Walker logo appears followed by a link to the official campaign blog on Sina.com.


Through its “Yulu Project,” Johnnie Walker offered potential consumers an experience rather than an advertisement. Johnnie Walker marketers engaged Chinese netizens through inspirational documentaries that prompted their active participation on a branded Sina blog, microblog and over 40 other digital platforms in China. “We are excited about this campaign as it allows us to communicate with Chinese consumers in a heart to heart way and co-opt them into our brand values,” said Johnnie Walker’s Regional Brand Director. According to Diageo, the campaign generated 20 million video views over the course of eight weeks. Given the success of its first campaign, Diageo plans to run a second “Yulu” campaign later in 2012.


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