Johnnie Walker’s ‘Journey of Flavour’

What’s your flavour? – have we finally glimpsed the future of brand experiences?

Sep 10, 2021

By Neil Davidson

The question ‘what’s your flavour?’ has had a varied history, at least in music. Loski and Stormzy have both asked it recently. Craig David had a good go at asking it in the early 2000s (before Bo Selecta’s career-crushing mockery would prevent him from doing so again (publicly, at least) for almost two decades). Then, of course, there’s Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav who has famously been all about flavour (and some other stuff) since the 80s. Whether it’s ‘flavour’, ‘flavor’ or even ‘flava’, the word is loaded, and with good reason; everyone has a preference and people love to talk about it. Which leads me to the subject in hand, a brand-new brand experience focused entirely on your own flavour profile.

Flavour is at the heart of a new brand experience that overshadows most in its scale and ambition.  It’s taken four and a half years to create, is on eight floors, covers 71,500 square feet, has rooftop bars with hundreds of whiskies, and all sits proudly on the corner of Edinburgh’s Princes Street. (Not forgetting the price tag of £150 million.)  The Johnnie Walker visitor experience is a bold statement at a time when many whisky brands are investing in their distillery experiences and the whisky sector is investing in new expressions of whisky to levels never seen before.

Brand Dispersion is alive and well on Princes Street

Despite being conceived long before CV19, the experience is a physical expression of the pillars of what we have been talking about for the future of experiences at HeyHuman since the start of the pandemic. This has been triggered by new human behaviours and the acceleration of Brand Dispersion, the breaking of the classic brand and retail purchase journeys and the rise of digital retail channels.  (In some ways it’s a living example of Brand Dispersion as it is based in the old site of House of Fraser.)

The Johnnie Walker retail experience is notable for delivering what we describe at HeyHuman as ‘Everywhere Experiences’, personalized and meaningful experiences that leave a lasting memory. It also has the potential to be a brand experience that delivers on three key pillars of our Everywhere Experiences:  sustainability, experiences that lead to a transaction, and products and NPD led by the experience.

Data and storytelling sitting at the heart of experiences

Johnnie Walker’s ‘Journey of Flavour’ starts with a relatively simple flavour quiz, giving you a personal flavour profile (‘Tropical’ for me) and a wristband signifying this to wear throughout the experience. Add to that an expert guide, some theatrical storytelling, high-end technology (the high-ball machine was a personal favourite), the demystification of flavours in whisky, and some Johnnie Walker, and you have the essence of what the experience holds.

Given the creation of personal flavour insights and the depth of conversation, the experience sparks the potential for further experiences (this is one of many in the Princes Street location), ongoing engagement, NPD, and ongoing direct sales. It is also potentially a powerful insight tool for Diageo generally in the context of its existing ‘What’s your Whisky’ whisky-matching tool, the sibling of the flavour profiling tool.

An engaging experiential blend

Johnnie Walker could potentially have created an idea that engages people with whisky in entirely new ways. The myth-breaking attitude of the experience sits well with a premium blended whisky focused on new audiences, new occasions, and new liquids.  It’s very early days (it was our guide’s first experience and the overlap between flavour, history and craft generally will mature) but the more the experience develops and the more that the personalized flavour idea is embedded into every part of the experience, the more the experience can be expected to grow and thrive.

Despite the unfortunate legacy of Craig David and Bo Selecta, our fascination with asking the question ‘what’s your flavour?’ seems to endure and should mean the start of a prosperous future for Johnnie Walker’s experiences.