What not to say when you’re launching a new product

Jane Walker

In the last few days, a fried chicken restaurant garnered plaudits for running out of chicken, and a whisky brand has been chastised for putting an image of a woman on its label. Chuck your family bucket to one side for now. We need to talk about Jane Walker.

Why focus on Jane and not the Colonel? Because KFC’s FCK-up was a commercial disaster dressed up in adland’s new clothes. Whereas Diageo’s misstep has important lessons for anyone looking to grow their market share.

In case you missed it, Johnnie Walker recently released a limited edition ‘Jane Walker’ whisky in the US.

On the face of it, it wasn’t a terrible idea.

Johnnie Walker saw that there was an opportunity to appeal to a different consumer segment, and win some favourable PR in the process.

The launch was timed to coincide with Women’s History Month and International Women’s day. As they said in their press release:
“Important conversations about gender continue to be at the forefront of culture and we strongly believe there is no better time than now to introduce our Jane Walker icon.”

The brand even announced they would be donating $1 from every bottle sold to organisations championing women’s causes.

So, what could possibly go wrong with a well-timed, well-intentioned campaign addressing gender equality?

Well, this quote from an interview with one of their (female) executives was unfortunate: “Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women.”

Oh dear.

It’s not a good idea to condescend to the consumers you’re trying to appeal to. It’s also not a good idea to conflate ‘we’re doing this for a good cause’ with ‘this is a marketing ploy’ in your messaging.

Twitter soon pointed this out, Colbert eviscerated it, and the launch’s narrative went into a tailspin, with some people comparing it to the tone-deaf Lady Doritos idea.

Here are the 3 marketing mistakes that might have led to that comment, and the reaction that followed.

The first is lazy thinking.
Defining a segment by gender is lazy.

Women aren’t a customer segment. They’re 51% of the US population. (Just like Millennials aren’t a segment – there are 92 million in the US alone.) Some women like whisky. Some women don’t. Just like some men do, and some men don’t.

Second, market research isn’t a message.

Good market research can tell you about people’s behaviours and attitudes. It doesn’t tell you what you need to say. To connect with a new audience, you need to be more creative. You need to understand how to position your brand for them, and how to shape your language to speak to them.

Third, If you’re launching a new sub-brand, you can’t just change the surface. You have to change the story. And stick to it. Even if it’s a sub-brand, or a limited edition.

Just changing the image on the bottle, without creating a new voice for the brand, doesn’t give you a creative platform. And if you don’t have a story to tell, you might end up saying something you regret. Like ‘women find scotch intimidating’, for example.

If you’d like to have a chat about how your brand’s language and positioning can help you attract new audiences, call us on 0203 053 8329.