This is the story of the first brands that were expanded into a global market way back in 1896 by the Scots. The word whisky is believed to have been coined by the soldiers of King Henry II whose armies invaded Ireland in the 12th century, as they struggled to pronounce the native Irish words uisce beatha. The word is a shortened form of usquebaugh, which English borrowed from the Irish Gaelic uisce beatha and Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha. This compound descends from Old Irish uisce, “water”, and bethad, “of life”, and literally means the “water of life”, In the course of time, the pronunciation changed from whishkeyba (an approximation of how the Irish term sounds) to whiskey.

The three Scottish gentlemen

It meant the same thing as the Latin aqua vitae, given to distilled drinks since the early 14th century. The Americans, Canadians and Irish spell whiskey with the e and the Scots spell whisky without the e. In the late 1800s, with the invention of the Coffey (continuous) still, the Scots flooded the market with cheap whisky. The Americans, Canadians and Irish then added the e to distinguish their brands as a quality whiskey.

The art of distillation originated in the East and was first practised in Europe, when the Moors distilled perfumes in Spain during the Middle Ages. It is believed that Irish missionaries brought the distillation technique to Ireland from the Mediterranean regions between the sixth and seventh centuries. This technique was later introduced into Scotland, with the first documented evidence of whisky production in 1494.

The British settlers brought the skills and equipment with them to America, famous for its Bourbon, and to Japan where production started in the early 20th century and today its malt whiskies are considered among the best in the world. The global sales of whisky currently exceed US$2-billion annually.

This is largely due to two crucial events and the action of three Scottish gentlemen in the 19th century: John Dewar, Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniels. First, a new production process was introduced in Scotland in 1831 called the Coffey or patent still. Whisky produced using this distilling method was less intense, smoother and, most important, cheaper. Secondly, the Phylloxera bug destroyed wine and cognac production in France in 1880. To understand how a new production process helped to increase whisky’s popularity you need to understand the history and the processes involved in producing whisky.

Malt whisky may not contain any other grain than malted barley and is traditionally distilled in pot stills. It is a time-consuming and costly one-off distillation process. Grain whisky may contain unmalted barley or other malted or unmalted grains, such as wheat and maize (corn) and is typically distilled in a continuous column still, known as a patent or Coffey still. There are scores of malt whisky distilleries, but, at present, there are only seven grain distilleries, most of them in the Lowlands of Scotland.

Due to the higher alcohol yield from a patent still, grain whiskey is generally accepted as having a lighter and less complex flavour than malt whisky. In Scotland, pure-grain whisky is seldom bottled and is manufactured mainly for blending with malt whisky. It is inexpensive to produce and plays a major role in the production of Scotch whisky, because it is used to create blended whiskies.

The comparative lightness of grain whisky is used to smooth out the often harsh characteristics of single-malt whiskies. Blended whiskies are made from a mixture of malt and grain whiskies. A blend usually comes from many distilleries, so that the blender can produce a flavour consistent with the brand. That is why the brand name, for example Johnnie Walker, will usually not contain the name of a distillery. The market is dominated by blends, yet the most highly prized Scotch whiskies are still the single malts.

John Dewar Senior and the first motion picture advertisement

After 1860, it became legal to sell the blended whisky that was also less expensive than a malt whisky, resulting in more sales and a growing demand. John Dewar Senior created the Dewar’s brand of blended Scotch whisky and, under the control of his two sons, John A Dewar Junior and Thomas “Tommy” Dewar, the brand expanded to penetrate a global market in 1896. The very able salesman, Tommy Dewar, created a demand for Dewar’s whisky in London and later America, and he became famous as the author of a travel journal, Ramble Round the Globe, which documented his travels while publicising the Dewar name.

Interestingly, Dewar’s Scotch whisky is famous for showing the first motion picture advertisement for a drink in 1897, when it was broadcast on the roof of a building in New York’s Herald Square and stopped the traffic as people gaped in amazement.

John “Johnnie” Walker, the Striding Man

The Johnnie Walker brand of Scotch whisky is produced in Shieldhall, Glasgow and Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland and and is the most widely distributed brand of blended Scotch whisky in the world. Originally known as Old Highland Whisky for the export trade and Walker’s Kilmarnock Scotch for the local market, the Johnnie Walker brand is the legacy of John “Johnnie” Walker after he started to sell whisky in his grocer’s shop in Ayrshire, Scotland. His brand became popular, but after Walker’s death in 1857, it was his son and grandson who were largely responsible for establishing their Scotch whisky as a popular brand. Alexander Walker first introduced the iconic square bottle in the 1860s with the label applied at an angle of 64 degrees to help his bottles stand out on the shelf.

During 1906-1909, John’s grandsons, George and Alexander II, expanded the line and introduced the colour names. In 1908, the whisky was renamed from Walker’s Kilmarnock Whiskies to Johnnie Walker Whisky. In addition, the slogan, “Born 1820 – Still going Strong!” was created, along with the Striding Man, a figure used in their advertisements for about 50 years. Thereafter, the Striding Man appeared as a brandmark on most of their advertising.

Take the famous cartoonist, Tom Browne, to lunch, buy him a drink and then ask him to draw a figure on the back of the menu to personify your brand. That’s how the Johnnie Walker Striding Man, one of the first globally recognised advertising figures, was born. It has reportedly become one of the world’s first internationally recognised brandmarks, ahead of the distinctive Coca-Cola script.

The “Keep Walking” advertising campaign was launched in 1999, the first global campaign for the brand. The character keeps walking through history in “Striding”, the 2008 television commercial that marked 100 years since the rebranding of the whisky. In the same year, the world’s largest Striding Man made its appearance in the form of a building wrap in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is visible from many vantage points in the city. The billboard spans three sides of a 35-floor skyscraper in the central business district and is the size of 70 rugby fields. The wrap covers almost the entire building’s surface, except for the windows, with a total visual impact of 11 000 square metres.

The brandmark is even carried through into the Johnnie Walker® Striding Man Society(TM) – a business networking forum for individuals who strive for and demonstrate personal progress in all aspects of their lives and share an appreciation for Johnnie Walker.

The Striding Man symbol is another good example of the essentials of a good brandmark. Johnnie Walker Black Label, a blend of about 40 whiskies, each aged for at least 12 years, reportedly the favourite Scotch of Winston Churchill, is considered to be one of the best premier blended Scotch whiskies in the world. A number of singers and songwriters have referenced Johnnie Walker in their works, including Van Morrison and ZZ Top.

Johnnie Walker whiskies are the most widely distributed brand of blended Scotch whisky in the world, sold in almost every country and with annual sales exceeding 130-million bottles.

Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel and his six friends

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 is a brand of Tennessee whiskey, which has been filtered through sugar maple charcoal in large wooden vats before aging, and is not a bourbon whiskey, as defined in United States Federal Regulations.

It is among the world’s best-selling liquors and is known for its square bottles (different in proportion from Johnnie Walker) and black label. This whiskey has featured prominently in movies, songs and novels, and is strongly linked to rock and roll, country music and American biker culture. Black and white is effectively used in the company’s advertising campaigns to illustrate the long history of the Jack Daniel’s brand.

The distillery was founded in 1866 by Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel. Legend has it that Old No. 7 referred to Jack and his six friends, who had the original idea for this special type of whiskey. Legend also has it that they enjoyed many a long, lazy day, evening and night sampling and perfecting until the ultimate whiskey was created. In 1907, due to failing health and because Jack Daniel had never married and had no children, he gave the distillery to his nephew, Lem Motlow. Advertisements state that Lynchburg has only 361 people, though the official (2000 census) population is 5 740. This is permissible because the label was trademarked in the early 1960s when this figure was the actual population cited by the United States Census Bureau; changing the label would require applying for a new trademark or forfeiting trademark protection.

However, the census population includes all of Moore County, as the county and city governments have been consolidated. Moore County, where the Jack Daniel’s distillery is located, is one of the state’s many “dry” counties. This means that, although it is legal to distill the product in the county, it is illegal to purchase it there. However, a state law has provided one exception: a distillery may sell one commemorative product, regardless of county statutes. Jack Daniel’s now sells Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel at the distillery’s White Rabbit Bottle Shop.

Alexander Greyling is the Author of Face your brand! The visual language of branding explained and is one of South Africa’s top branding experts. In his eBook he provides indispensable facts and logic for creating a successful visual brandmark through his seven essential elements of a successful brandmark.

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