Johnnie, meet Jane. In a play on signature top-hatted man on Johnnie Walker scotch whisky bottles, the company has introduced Jane, a "symbol to represent the fearless women taking steps on behalf of all."
Priced around $34, the special edition bottles will go on sale in March — just in time to for Women's History Month.
It's unclear whether or not Johnnie Walker executives believed women wouldn't buy their product unless they were represented on its packaging. In any event, Jane Walker isn't the first attempt to market seemingly gender-neutral products to women.
Take the recent case of Lady Doritos. In an interview with WNYC's Freakonomics, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi discussed the different ways that men and women eat Doritos.
Nooyi noted that her company was "looking at ... snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently. ... Low-crunch, the full taste profile, not have so much of the flavor stick on the fingers, and how can you put it in a purse? Because women love to carry a snack in their purse."
As NPR reported, the Internet did not take kindly to her idea.
Doritos backtracked on Nooyi's comments a day later, tweeting: "We already have Doritos for women — they're called Doritos, and they're loved by millions."
And let's not forget Bic's lady pens. The company designed a "ball pen essentially for women" in 2012, despite the female ability to write just fine with genderless ball pens. As NPR's Linda Holmes wrote, "It appears that the Bic For Her's 'for her'-osity is primarily related to (1) being pink, and (2) being slightly narrower, to fit your itty bitty lady fingers."
Erin Keeley, a strategic planning director at the ad agency Mono, says that Johnnie Walker brand owner Diageo is hoping the Jane move will widen the appeal of its product.
Keeley pointed to REI, an outdoor apparel and gear outlet, as a company that understood marketing products specifically to women. Their team "pulled their women customers and asked, 'What are your concerns?' and 63 percent of the women said they couldn't think of an outdoor female role model," Keeley says. "So they've started to focus on telling stories about women adventurers. ... In that way, they're focused on creating a sale, but doing it in a genuine context."
It's possible to market to women without "pinking and shrinking" your product, Keeley says. "You may just need to tailor a small element."
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
To all you ladies who love scotch, Johnnie Walker has got something for you, your own brand of scotch to be called Jane Walker. The peg, they say, is Women's History Month. Is this a ridiculous idea? Is it a clever idea? Marketing just to us ladies is kind of a gamble. And there have been notable hits and misses. To run through some of those and ask about how this latest effort fits in is Erin Keeley. She's with the marketing firm mono. Welcome, Erin.
ERIN KEELEY: Thank you for having me.
CHANG: Can you just describe for our listeners what this new Jane Walker label looks like?
KEELEY: It feels like it's an interpretation of the classic Johnny Walker logo mark but with a very feminine perspective. She's got a ponytail and flowing hair. She's got the same sort of confident stance, but it's clear very quickly that this is a woman and a very different portrayal of what we're used to seeing on the front of the bottle.
CHANG: See, I'm looking at a woman who has this voluptuous chest and this really impossibly tiny waist and these perfect hips, sort of like the male fantasy of what a woman should look like. And I'm kind of thinking, really? This label's supposed to make me suddenly want to drink scotch?
KEELEY: Looking at it, I can see how you would. And I can see how the Twitterverse has really had a polarized reaction to this.
CHANG: There've been offended people out there?
KEELEY: There've been definitely some people who have been taken aback saying that they don't need Johnny Walker to put a female icon on the label in order for it to be OK for them to drink whiskey. I think that's been a lot of the conversation that's out there.
CHANG: Well, when a brand tries to reach out to women, it can obviously be risky. I'm just sort of curious, what are some famous flops?
KEELEY: I have a very personal example. My very first toolset was called Do It Herself. And there was nothing different about it other than the fact that the handles were a pale pink.
CHANG: Oh, God.
KEELEY: You know, that's just blatant taking something and changing it a different color and putting a different name on it and saying now all the sudden it's for women.
KEELEY: There's things like Miss BIC for women where they're the pink pens that are alongside everything else, you know, Sleep Pretty in Pink Ear Plugs.
CHANG: So then, OK, what are some successful ways that marketers can specifically reach out to women?
KEELEY: Yeah, I think one example that really always stands out to me and speaks to me personally is the Force of Nature work that REI has done to reach out to women. And it's really, really difficult, of course, for a brand that is rooted in a masculine space or has a very masculine sensibility, which you could say REI probably has. And what they did was start from a genuine place of polling their women that are customers and asking them what are their concerns? And 63 percent of the women said that they couldn't think of an outdoor female role model.
So they've got, you know, focus on telling stories about women adventurers, about creating events for getting people into activities outside. And in that way, they're absolutely focused on creating a sale, but they're doing it in a genuine context.
CHANG: When brands that skew male want to market to women, do you see an effort to tap into the masculine side of lots of women, like the part of women that want to feel strong and in charge and tough? And is that a good approach?
KEELEY: Let me think about it in maybe a slightly different way. One of the best examples of what you're talking about, to me, is when the NFL was trying to figure out how to reach out to women. And they were creating gear and fan gear and they would create sort of pink versions or bedazzled versions of the jerseys, when all women really wanted was a jersey that was just like every other jersey...
KEELEY: ...But it happened to fit their form.
KEELEY: It's not that necessarily every time you want to reach a woman, you need to make it something different. It may just be that there's a smaller element that needs to be tailored to fit just right.
CHANG: Does the way Johnnie Walker is now trying to market to women, does it fit that?
KEELEY: You know, I feel like it's too early to tell. There could be so much more of this campaign to unfold. There's advertising elements that are yet to be out in the marketplace. And so I'm really curious about where the brand is going to take this.
CHANG: I'm also just reminded as we're talking that, you know, women are not a monolith. There are so many different kinds of women out there. I mean, what about the idea of just talking to women as people, not just women as women?
KEELEY: Right. I'm certain there are a lot of women that drink Johnnie Walker today and don't think twice about it...
KEELEY: ...And didn't think that maybe they needed something different. I do think that it's a difficult territory. I think it's mostly difficult for masculine brands that feel like they need to expand the conversation. And it's a difficult place to tread. And I think we're seeing a lot of brands struggle with that.
CHANG: Erin Keeley is with the marketing firm mono. She joined us from Minneapolis. Thank you very much.
KEELEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.