“Disruption is not enough; you need to create trauma,” says Lawrence Law, Global General Manager of Diageo. “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.”
Without context, this may sound like the ramblings of a mad scientist, but Law is in fact referring to last year’s Keep Walking exhibition. The 17-day art event at Johnnie Walker House in Shanghai featured installations that engaged each of the five senses, and introduced consumers to the Johnnie Walker brand in a truly unique and immersive way.
Being experimental and pushing boundaries is at the heart of what Johnnie Walker House does. While the space was initially founded as a marketing endeavour, Law believes it has since come to embody the brand’s larger mission. “It is now a global network of flagship and boutique experiences,” he says. “It’s not about the world of whisky, it’s about bringing to the brand a sense of relevance to the everyday life of consumers.”
“In this case, art was the platform, with an aim to create content to share,” explains Law. “We’re telling the story not by putting posters or advertising, but using an experiential medium and bringing in cultural relevance via this exhibition.” And while the pieces were inspired by whisky (the Chinese artists were all invited to Johnnie Walker HQ in Scotland to see how the product is made), the all-important end results were out of the brand’s hands.
And boy, did it show. Law describes one sculpture as a “disfigured” version of the famous walking man logo, which would definitely never have made it past traditional compliance guidelines. ; “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.”
Throwing established brand guidelines to the wind and giving up control can be a terrifying but ultimately “profound” experience, says Law. Not only are you benefiting from the immense creativity of talented new visual artists working in different media, but you also find yourself shaken out of the echo chamber which many brands end up inadvertently working in.
It’s a risk that certainly seems to have paid off for the Johnnie Walker brand; the Keep Walking exhibition was oversubscribed two times over. “If you bring everyone together, you can create great impact in delivering brand experiences,” adds Law. “But you have to let go. You have to believe in the power of collective creativity.”