Gabey Goh
Sep 10, 2015

From collaboration to creative 'trauma': Building Diageo's $2 billion luxury brand

SPIKES ASIA - If brands really want to achieve true resonance with their consumers, they must learn to let go and have confidence in the power of collective creativity, according to Diageo’s Lawrence Law.

From collaboration to creative 'trauma': Building Diageo's $2 billion luxury brand

The beverage giant’s global general manager told Spikes Asia attendees that the luxury spirits portfolio accounts for about £1.3 billion a year (US$2 billion) in value. And that success, he indicated, comes in part from a push to redefine the way the company approached its marketing and brand-building efforts.

Law said the team first sought to determine whether ‘luxury is dead’, but ended up defining the luxury portfolio's purpose under the slogan 'Luxury is living'.

The crux of the idea is that the company had to move beyond traditional approaches to marketing products to consumers up front and find new means of manifesting the brand’s values.

“When we opened our first Johnny Walker House in Shanghai four years ago, many thought that it was just a marketing stunt, and it was," Law admitted. "But four years later, it is now a global network of flagship and boutique experiences. It’s not about the world of whisky, it’s about bringing to the brand a sense of relevance to everyday life of consumers."

If there is one lesson agencies can teach their brand clients, according to Law, it is to ‘let go’, especially when brands bring agencies and other creative partners on board.

“If you bring everyone together, you can create great impact in delivering brand experiences," he said. "But you have to let go, you have to believe in the power of collective creativity.”

Law highlighted an art exhibition hosted by the company in May 2014, a 17-day “Keep Walking” multi-sensory art exhibition in China.

The event sought to create an “unprecedented and revolutionary” sensory experience for whisky and art lovers, featuring the blending of Scotch whisky with contemporary art displays that touched all five senses.

The brand invited Chinese artists to the company’s headquarters in Scotland to get acquainted with the brand and the process of whisky-making to inspire their artwork. And that process brought to the forefront the concept of needing to “let go.”

“One sculpture featured our 'walking man' disfigured, which would have violated traditional brand-compliance guidelines," Law shared. "And my brand manager initially wanted to restrict some things, saying ‘you can’t do that’ or ‘you can’t do this’. I had to tell her to stop and ‘let go’. But we [did] let go, because the experience was profound.”

Law stressed that brands have to let other people tell the stories for them, as marketers tend to get blinded by the need to tell consumers what the story is.

“In this case, art was the platform, with an aim to create content to share," he said. "We’re telling the story not by putting posters or advertising but using an experiential medium and bringing in cultural relevance via this exhibition. The results were great, we were oversubscribed two times over.”

These days the Diageo team is focused on a new question: How do you create "creative trauma" or "mental trauma" for consumers?

“Disruption is not enough, you need to create trauma," Law said. "Don’t talk about the brand, talk about creating trauma and then layer brand content over it. If you do it the other way around, you end up with a very myopic view of how your brand should be represented.”

Campaign Asia-Pacific’s view: The talk was a visually pleasing look into Diageo’s approach to building its Johnnie Walker brand, specifically in China. Law’s message to fellow brand owners to have confidence in creative collaborators was certainly a crowd-pleasing message at Spikes Asia. To confess, we would have liked an opportunity to experience some of the art installations up close, and more elaboration on what Law means by "creative trauma" would have been welcome as well.


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