Johnnie Walker to take polo line for image makeover

Johnnie Walker to take polo line for image makeover

Even if it’s debatable whether polo is still en vogue, one company thinks the sport can be creatively leveraged.

Diageo India Pvt. Ltd, the maker of premium Scotch whisky Johnnie Walker, will unveil a new polo line, created by fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani, at the Johnnie Walker Gold Polo Cup to be played at the Jaipur Polo Grounds in New Delhi on Sunday.

Called the Elegant Elitists, Tahiliani’s polo line is an amalgamation of both spring-summer and fall-winter collections, with polo being the main theme, and designed according to Diageo specifications.

The idea, says Diageo India managing director Asif Adil, is to elevate Johnnie Walker brands—some costing up to Rs10,000 a litre—from being seen as mere alcohol to a “luxurious experience".

Adil has good reasons. For decades, Bollywood “villains’ have been seen drinking Johnnie Walker by the gallon onscreen, a comedian with over 300 movies under his belt tweaked the brand’s name and adopted it as his own, and bootleggers ensured its counterfeit version flowed as freely as rainwater in the monsoons.

Now, Diageo India says it’s time to push Johnnie Walker among those who matter: the rich and the super-rich. At the Johnnie Walker Gold Polo Cup, Diageo will promote its premium Johnnie Walker Gold Label, priced at Rs8,000-10,000 a litre, depending on the excise a state government levies.

Market tracker Datamonitor Plc. pegs the total Scotch market at Rs168.3 crore for 2006 (3.48 million litres), exclusive of fakes and smuggled liquor, figures for which it says it doesn’t have. Adil claims his brands account for 75-80% of all imported Scotch.

Diageo’s association with sports in India began in 2006 and has been growing. Apart from polo, it started the Johnnie Walker Gold Cup in horse racing’s 1000 Guineas Classic last year; this year, it’s entering the 2000 Guineas as well.

The firm is also bringing the prestigious Johnnie Walker Classic golf tournament, carrying a record prize of $2.5 million (Rs9.88crore), to India for the first time, in February. And earlier this year, it briefly dabbled in cricket when it rode the ICC World Cup to promote its cheaper Red Label, priced between Rs750 and Rs1,200.

Tiger Sports Marketing Pvt. Ltd director Digraj Singh, who’s been organizing polo events for years, describes a certain “rub-off" factor. “Sports such as polo give premium brands a platform for niche positioning," Singh says.

There are doubters, such as Datamonitor senior analyst Puneet Bansal. He says the ban on advertising alcoholic products stymies mass media campaigns, allowing only avenues such as sports sponsorships. “By doing this they can only achieve to convey that they still exist," Bansal says. “I believe that the best way to advertise these products in India is through word of mouth."