Johnnie Walker Campaign Keeps Walking Toward Higher Ground

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I've described it as probably the most intelligent ad we've ever made," says John Hegarty, chairman-worldwide creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Shouldering the weight of that considerable claim is a considerable new ad for Johnnie Walker, the latest of the brand's cinematic exhortations to the still upright to "Keep Walking."
The Android: How to achieve immortality? Keep Walking.
The Android: How to achieve immortality? Keep Walking.

"The Android" evokes nothing less than the essence of a life well lived. Sure, it's no dancing chicken or prehensile beard, but it's unsettling and excellent nonetheless.

The titular android, an eye-popping computer-generated creation of MJZ Director Dante Ariola and the visual effects gurus at The Mill, is programmed, like many androids before him, with sufficient empathy algorithms to experience pangs of life-force envy. Seated amid the accumulated knowledge of humanity in a vast library, the man-bot addresses the camera. "I am faster than you," he says. "And certainly I will last much longer than you." But what he ain't got, of course, is that swing, that thing you curse every day, that mortal coil. After lamenting the exclusively human things he's missing out on, the android coolly but with a hint of melancholy says: "I can achieve immortality by not wearing out. You can achieve it by. ..." Well, you'll have to watch the ad to find out how you can achieve immortality.

And production finesse aside, that's what's stunning about this effort: the audacity, if you'd call it that, inherent in making an ad that addresses such a question, without irony, without a gag, unleavened by early-oughts-style weirdness-for-its-own-sake.

You might (especially if you're in the ad industry) call it pretentious, and it's certainly not for every brand. But Johnnie Walker seems to have earned the right to deliver such a message.

The "Keep Walking" campaign is perhaps one of the more underheralded brand initiatives of the last several years. As other booze marketers struggle to find a voice that's sufficiently hipster or "classy," this campaign has steadily presented a cool, meaningfully aspirational brand vibe: Rather than an emblem for the arriviste, JW is a companion for those savoring the journey. The line and the idea transcend demographics and have been culturally co-opted and repurposed (JW's Striding Man was recently seen traversing a bombed-out bridge in an outdoor ad that appeared in Beirut). The idea works on multiple levels (including the smirky one inherent in the juxtaposition of walking and alcohol). More importantly, it apparently just works-Diageo reported 12% net sales growth for JW last year.

Created in 1999, the campaign itself has kept a move on, evolving from earlier celebrity-focused ads to bigger, more involving efforts like 2003's award-winning "Fish" and this latest spot. "Rather than describe something about making progress," says Hegarty, "it emotionally takes you to a place that makes you want to do it." Hegarty was creative director on the spot, and one feels the presence of the BBH co-founder in "The Android" (this is the man who has been heard to relay the advice, "do interesting things and interesting things will happen to you").

As for what any of this has to do with Scotch whisky, well, that's like asking what drugstores have to do with jeans. Hegarty advances a more interesting line of questioning: "Why shouldn't advertising live in a higher place?" he says of the ad's lofty idea. "Why shouldn't it capture people's imagination and inspire them? Isn't that what great brands do-live beyond the boundaries of what they are?"

See the ad on

Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and E-mail your big ideas to her at [email protected]
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