The world’s most popular whisky started in Kilmarnock a town in the heart of Ayrshire in the South West of Scotland. John Walker was born an entrepreneur didn’t see his life as following in the footsteps of his father on his Ayrshire farm. It would take 3 generations of Walkers to make Johnnie Walker a more common site around the globe than Coca Cola. John Walker became a grocer selling a variety of produce however it was in blending tea leaves that gave Walker the impetus to move into whisky blending. John Walkers son Alexander joined the family business in 1856 and it was him who moved Johnnie Walker from a Scottish blended whisky to a major player in the whisky industry. It was Alexander who registered the now famous signature black & gold walking man recognised the world over. When copyright came into existence in the UK in 1876 Alexander added that level of protection to its brand which was becoming distinctive using the square bottle.
Although in the latter half of the 19th century whisky competition was on the increase Alexander Walker’s belief was not to compromise on quality, people would pay extra for a quality whisky. Alexander Walker passed away in 1889 and the business was handed down to his 3 sons George Paterson, John (named after his grandfather) and Alexander (named after his father). According to records it was Alexander who had the skill of blending and George who had the marketing flair of his father. It was George who hired Tom Browne (also from Kilmarnock) a successful cartoonist to used John Walker as the subject to create the logo with the striding man in top hat and high boots which endures today. The tagline ‘Keep Walking’ was added at a later date as the tagline at the time was ‘Born 1820 still going strong’. While George marketed the product Alexander was ensuring the product quality and by 1906 John Walker & Sons had the fore runners to the Black, Red and White labels available today however they were called different names, Walkers Old Highland Label, Extra Special Old Highland, and Old Highlands Whisky. It was the consumer who drove John Walker & Sons to renaming them Black, Red and White.
After the 1st world war the White label had been put out to pasture as Alexander believed in pursuing the customers with better tastes and deeper pockets. It was at this time that Johnnie Walker whisky had to go global. It merged with the Distillers Co Ltd in order to take advantage of the already established global distribution network; this remained the position until the holding company United Distillers merged with Irish drinks giant Guinness, and latterly Diageo.
Today Johnnie Walker markets Red Label, Black Label, Blue Label, Green Label and Gold Label however special releases are so marketed by Diageo. The sales of Johnnie Walker whisky are nothing short of staggering with the world’s most valuable spirits brand selling as many as 33 million bottles per annum. This gives the staggering statistic that 1 bottle of Johnnie Walker is drunk every second.
This is a success story of giant proportions creating a world beating brand from the small town of Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, Scotland.
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