OPINION: Mills on ... Johnnie Walker

What football fan doesn't remember the 1994 World Cup final? Roberto Baggio steps up to take an extra-time penalty against Brazil. Baggio has to score to keep Italy's World Cup dream alive. He misses. It was a moment of sublime human drama for the man whose superlative football had propelled Italy to the final against Brazil. For millions of Italians, their hero Baggio, aka the Divine Ponytail, had failed them at the last.

What football fan doesn't remember the 1994 World Cup final? Roberto Baggio steps up to take an extra-time penalty against Brazil. Baggio has to score to keep Italy's World Cup dream alive. He misses. It was a moment of sublime human drama for the man whose superlative football had propelled Italy to the final against Brazil. For millions of Italians, their hero Baggio, aka the Divine Ponytail, had failed them at the last.

Fast-forward to France '98. Italy are trailing 2-1 to Chile when, in the 85th minute, they get a penalty. Step forward Baggio. He scores. He is redeemed. You think of Kipling, you think of those twin impostors, triumph and disaster.

What you don't think of is scotch. Yet, according to the latest Bartle Bogle Hegarty ad for Johnnie Walker, that is what we should be thinking about. Pay attention and I'll explain.

According to the bumf from Diageo, Johnnie Walker is all about personal courage. It's all about people who conquer their fears and their demons or, as Johnnie Walker puts it, make the 'walk of progress' to banish self-doubt. Hence the enormously impressive endline: 'Johnnie Walker. Keep walking.' In Baggio's case, this is the walk to and from the penalty spot.

But I know what you, dear readers, are thinking. How exactly did Baggio make that walk of progress? Did he return home a broken man and spend the next four years finding solace in the bottom of a glass? Did he have a quick snifter from the hipflask for a bit of Dutch courage before he took the second penalty? Or, in more traditional scotch advertising imagery, did he sit down in front of a log fire, pour himself a glass and ponder the meaning of life and the futility of it all?

Of course he didn't, and I'll tell you why. It's because he's a Buddhist and, the sceptics say, a bit of an all-round fruitcake. Now that doesn't mean Buddhists don't drink, although they're hardly up there with George Best. It does mean, however, that they're likely to find spiritual comfort in their religion.

So I would imagine, therefore, that Baggio's 'walk of progress' was made with the aid of his faith and some heavy chanting, not Johnnie Walker.

Obviously, however, Buddhists aren't daft when it comes to money matters and Baggio knows a good deal when he sees one. Unlike say, Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle, he didn't descend to making a fool of himself in a Pizza Hut ad. So all credit to the boy, as they say in the trade.

As you may be able to divine, I'm not enamoured of this ad. I wouldn't, though, underestimate the scale of the task facing the brand. Johnnie Walker has two obstacles to overcome. It's a global brand and it's a scotch.

Global brands are difficult and scotch is, if not going out of fashion, no longer young, fresh and exciting. That double problem at least means we're spared the pipes, roaring log fires (too British) and faux father-son bonding (too old-fashioned) that once typified scotch ads.

Yet, however cliched they may have been, those ads did in some way relate to the product. Baggio doesn't. It exemplifies a trend I increasingly notice in advertising whereby an ad describes a set of values and then, as if by magic, appropriates them for itself. How or why is never explained or alluded to. What am I supposed to think? Are people who drink Johnnie Walker braver, more heroic? If I drink it, will the same happen to me? What is uniquely Johnnie Walker about this quality?

The answer, of course, is nothing, and that sums up the essence of this campaign, which is that neither BBH nor Diageo can find anything remotely interesting to say about the brand.



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