India's drinking patterns differ significantly from those in any other market in the world. Much has been written about how India is the world's largest whiskey market. Unfortunately, most of what we drink is technically rum since it is made from cane rather than grain. A little whiskey flavouring to the rum makes India the largest whiskey market in the world. But Indians also have sophisticated whiskey tastes - the upper class are single malt fans and members of single malt clubs and even include their love for single malts on their twitter handle.
So why do Indians love their whiskey so much?
Maybe in some way Bollywood is to blame. Long before 'branded content' appeared in the vocabulary of the communication specialist, Johnnie Walker bottles of whiskey seem to have made their entry into Bollywood films. Earlier films somehow seem to have made Vat 69 very popular. And typically, it was the villain's drink. And of course, unlike the branded content of today where brands have to pay to feature their products in cinema, TV and other content, brands like Johnnie Walker and Vat 69 would have had a free run of in-film branding thanks to Indian cinema. Be it in Don, Do Anjaane or Sharabi, that glass of whiskey to Indians is a symbol of strength, supremacy or sometimes even humour!
How would Jane Walker perform in a market where whiskey has become a symbol of Indian machoism? And if Jane Walker is intended to bring women into the whiskey drinking fold, how would the obvious contradiction be seen by women in India?
When Diageo decided to launch Jane Walker, to time it with International Women's Day 2018, they may have made a classic marketing faux pas. The new variant in many ways was condescending to women. Stephanie Jacob, VP at Diageo told the press in an interview "Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women. It's a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand."
Maybe that was the wrong word to use, so close to Women's International Day. After all, strong women don't want to be told that anything is intimidating to them. In the '70s and '80s however, women might have worried that if they were seen drinking whisky, they may have been seen as masculine. As much as drinking gin for a man might have been considered a wee bit feminine.
But over the years spirits have become more gender neutral than they ever were. Vodka for example is universally unisex, if one might want to call it that.
And it is this peculiar quality of whiskey that has still managed to retain its halo of being a man's drink which might have prompted Diageo to introduce a special edition of Jane Walker. This is definitely an innovation and a brave move in the area of product thinking, but killed by an unperceptive, insensitive PR launch campaign.
The overseas launch was full of criticism both on social media and off it, and the public was highly critical, particularly women who were, unfortunately, the target of this new limited edition variant. I think it may have been a question of wrong timing.
A rumour says that Diageo had previously timed the launch of Jane Walker with the possible election of Hillary Clinton as US President in 2016 but had to withdraw the idea for obvious reasons. Had Hillary in fact made it, I somehow think it would have been more successful a marketing effort them, than it was now.
But it would be interesting to see how the limited edition of Jane Walker would do in India. Whiskey and particularly Johnnie Walker is considered the macho man's domain in the country. But would women like to call a party of female whiskey drinkers with a few men thrown in and serve Jane Walker?
I wouldn't completely rule out that possibility!
(The author is an independent brand strategy advisor)