Take an equal measure of golf, scotch and diamonds, stir them gently, sprinkle some celebrity power and serve chilled on a warm, lazy afternoon. Viola, you have a heady mix of a high profile brand mingling with the ‘Tiffany’ed elite in a smart ‘experiential marketing’ move.
When the evergreen Shirley Bassey was flown in from London to Delhi to sing ‘Hey Big Spender’ at the Johnnie Walker Classic gala dinner, she could have been singing about Diageo. When the prize money for a golf tournament is £1.6 million, it is serious golf money. Combine the extravagant entertainment and some big time golf and you have a heady mixture of, what Asif Adil, Managing Director, Diaego India, describes as, experiential marketing.
Diaego is world’s leading premium drinks company with an enviable collection of brands, including Johnnie Walker, Bailey’s, J&B, Guinness, Smirnoff. Johnnie Walker Gold Label was relaunched in India at the Johnnie Walker Classic.
The association of Johnnie Walker with golf dates back to the 19th century. Johnnie Walker Classic is the first event to be tri-sanctioned by the European, Asian and Australasian PGA Tours. The tournament, one of the biggest globally, promises the most spectacular experience in the world of golf and luxury. It has been held in Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, the Philippines and China, and was held in India for the first from February 28 to March 2 at the DLF Golf and Country Club.
Adil explained, “Our aim is to take sampling to various pleasurable events, big and small, on a 360-degree basis. We deliver this experience through sampling at major events like polo, races and golf on a large scale and music shows and seminars for smaller audiences. These brand experiences like the Johnny Walker Race Day in Mumbai or the Johnnie Walker Polo Day in Delhi, and this time Johnnie Walker Classic Golf in Gurgaon are planned to be cultural extravaganzas.”
The secret, according to Asif, was to activate each event. For example, Johnnie Walker Classic had tied up with eight leading golf clubs in India for the Johnny Walker tournaments to find winners for the Pro Am part of the Classic. Participants fro different parts of the country were flown in to participate in the Pro Am at the Johnnie Walker Classic.
Said Adil, “The biggest challenge is to keep your brand relevant and appealing to consumers, which is a relentless task. The fact that Johnnie Walker Black label is considered the favourite brand for Indians around the world is not enough. As important, if not more, is to ‘premiumise’ the brand and take the Black label drinker to the next level, which is Johnnie Walker Gold. The segmentation is clear – Red and Black Label for everyday, Gold for special occasions, and Blue for luxury.”
The ‘Keep Walking’ slogan of Johnnie Walker is inspirational. It reflects the essence of the brand – to push for one’s goals, to keep walking. Johnnie Walker also stresses on ‘safe driving’ and golfer Jeev Milkha Singh is the Johnnie Walker ambassador to promote responsible drinking.
If the Emmar MGF Indian Masters in early February 2008 marked the coming of age for professional golf tournaments in India, the Johnnie Walker Classic helped take it forward. Indian Pros rubbed shoulders with some of the best players in the world on home soil and showed them their mettle. Even though unlike the Masters an Indian did not win, the 5th position claimed by Shiv Kapur was highly commendable, followed closely by Jyoti Randhawa, Jeev and Arjun Atwal. In the span of just one month, India saw the likes of Ernie Els, Adam Scot, Vijay Singh and Colin Montgomorie, and the presence of the world’s No. 1 golfer (Tiger Woods, of course) is eagerly awaited. Hopefully, Woods, twice winner of the Johnnie Walker Classic, would come for the next Classic in India.
Companies like Diageo are taking sponsorship to new heights. Diageo India made a bid of Rs 1.5 crore to sponsor the Indian Derby, three times what current sponsor UB offered. It was decided that despite the significantly larger bid, the RWITC would honour its agreement with the UB Group and allow it to sponsor the event till 2008. Since then, Diageo has upped its stake by another crore to Rs 2.5 crore.
A touch of Bollywood was inevitable. In the case of the Johnnie Walker brand in India, the name got a headstart in the country thanks to the lovable Bollywood comedian of yore sporting the same name. Unfortunately, the ‘Bollywood Bling’ of Ian Poulter by way of his dressing in different designer outfits using gold and black crystals could not reach its finale, as planned, because Poulter missed the cut. But that’s how unpredictable golf can be and how challenging the business of experiential marketing is.
Were Asif Adil’s aspirations fully met? Yes, as far as the branding and the finest signage ever seen on a golf course is concerned, with a terrific rub off on TV coverage. Yes, maybe, in terms of sampling, though that appeared somewhat restricted. It was not clear which group the event was targeted at – was it the foreigners who came to watch great golf? Was it the golfing fraternity of Gurgaon, or was it a small cross-section of elite Indians willing to ‘drink responsibly’? And no, as a great cultural event. What really didn’t work was the attempt to bring in the Bollywood flavour on and off the course. Perhaps golf and Bollywood do not mix well.
Possibly, the Delhi Golf Club with its historical ambience and peacocks would have attracted greater audiences for sundowners!