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The making of Johnnie Walker’s first India campaign – Mission Mars

Johnnie Walker – The Journey is celebrating the tale of India’s most powerful progress story – ‘Mission Mars: Keep Walking India’. This film is Johnnie Walker – The Journey’s first India campaign. The film is written and directed by Imran Khan and produced by Dharma 2.0

For almost 200 years, Johnnie Walker has inspired the world with stories of progress. The 'Keep Walking India' campaign takes the next big leap in celebrating countless achievements, unwavering optimism and tireless progression of the great people who call India home. 

Click here to watch the film.

Adgully spoke to Abhishek Shahabadi, Vice President - Marketing at Diageo India, and Imran Khan, the Debutant Director of the short film. 

What was this idea of getting Mission Mars and Johnny Walker together?
The Johnny Walker journey is about celebrating and inspiring personal progress. World over we have told that story has been told for the brand over its 200-year old history. In India, specifically we were thinking of doing a keep walking India campaign. Like other countries, this narrative has worked very well here because it is very local and culturally relevant. We wanted to take an event that really underscores the progress this nation has made.  In context of that, we came across the event of India’s Mission to Mars and from there Dharma and Imran made this into such an inspiring piece of work. Like Imran pointed out – not enough people know about this event. So we thought it was a great story to hang our keep walking philosophy on. 

Why haven’t you done anything like this earlier?
There comes a time in every brands life cycle. Johnny Walker presence has been in the premium segments and it’s seen as an international big brand. As you continue to increase its presence, in order to connect locally and culturally with a slightly wider audience there comes a time for us to tell a larger story rather than an international communication that we’ve been bringing from the globe to India. If we truly want to connect with every Indian then this is the kind of story that will connect well with the audience at large. 

How are you going to incorporate the brand into the film?
The law allows us to advertise the trademark through brand extensions that are non-alcoholic beverages. We have the extension as Johnny Walker journey which is a platform of a ticketed event format. That platform is available to us to take people’s journey and show it to them either through a music format or a Ted talk kind of format. We advertise only through Johnny Walker the Journey on mass media because that is permissible. Everything in the alcohol category is limited only to the point of sale. This campaign builds the brand purpose at an overall level for the trademark Johnny Walker. 

How do you engage the millennial audience?
Millennials are not the asset heavy kind. They are looking for experiences; they are asset light which means they are not chasing after a house or a car but spending money to buy experiences. In the midst of all of these experiences they are looking for things that are authentic; things with a provenance; things that have stories they can absorb and then retell. Scotch and Malt are categories that essentially provide them that. When you have conversations around what goes into this bottle – Johnny Walker takes 21 malts from across Scotland and only 12 people around the world know how to create this blend. Imagine selling 18 million cases of this brand which has the same consistency that only 12 people can create. When you appreciate and drink the liquid in the way that it is supposed to be had then you have a memorable experience. This experience culture has led to the booming of gins and cocktails in the upper segment because that segment is directly influenced by what is happening around the world as they are much more exposed consumers. They are a lot more aware of what is happening around. If you look at any of the top trending bars and outlets you will see exactly the same trends happening outside being played back here because people know and demand those kinds of experiences. It’s about that one consumer that wants to experiment and try different things at different points in time. We also periodically conduct Master Class for Connoisseurs of Scotch & Single malts. Some of these events are opened to all. We see a lot of young millennials attending these events to taste and understand these blends. 

At Diageo we have a huge portfolio of brands right from gins, vodkas to scotches and we use this portfolio to provide all kind of experience that consumers would want. Johnny Walker is the most prized trademark in that play. It is the largest for us to push. 

What is your marketing strategy for this film?
We have laid out a huge omni-channel plan. The hero will be the 20-minute film that Imran has created for us. To direct people to that film and have eyeballs running in that direction we have an outdoor plan to talk to people about India’s inspiring walk to Mars. There is a big digital campaign that will run on social media. There is a television spot that is being created to run on TV. We are premiering the movie on Star Movies Select HD as well. We are hosting this movie on Hotstar. We are showing this film as in-flight entertainment and hosting it on the RA Network. We are trying to see if we can list it on the film festivals that are coming up. 

How do you leverage digital?
There are two parts of this story. One is specifically concerning the alcohol brand. There as per law we can only talk to people who opted in and have agreed to receive this content. So we have to take their consent beforehand. Only if people pass through those gates can we talk to them about our products. Otherwise we have to communicate to them through the brand extension. 

Alcohol has health risks. How are you promoting responsible drinking?
We strongly advocate responsible drinking. Our category is one to celebrate with and not one to indulge in. On all our brands we run campaigns – Don’t Drink and Drive; we partner with the police very actively in a lot of states to promote – Don’t Drink and Drive campaigns. We had this thing running on NDTV for the longest time urging people not to drink and drive. 

We take care of communities that work with us. We have women empowerment programmes. We want to be seen as the most trusted and respected marketer in this country. Diageo believes in celebrating and enjoying with our brands and not indulging in excess in any form. 

Is growing health awareness amongst the public leading to a dip in alcohol consumption?
India is a young country with a lot of people reaching the legal drinking age. Every year, almost 10-12 million people are coming out on the other side. The outlook for the category is quite buoyant, but obviously we are challenged in terms of a lot of regulatory upheavals in terms of the highway ban, etc., that keep coming in. But in a good year we see a reasonable amount of growth coming in to the category. 

Where do you see yourself in this market in India?
Our ambition is to be the most trusted, respected and best performing CPG Company in the country. 

How has your year on year growth been from a sales perspective?
The category of scotch has grown at almost 9-10 per cent CAGR for the last five years. That’s quite a robust growth compared to other CPG companies. 

We are trying to tell a large story in a very condensed manner: Imran Khan 

How did you get a chance to direct this film?
Diageo approached Dharma Productions 2.0 for a film around Mangalyan. This is a massive achievement for India, but the story is under recognised and has not been celebrated as it should be. This is a towering achievement for our country and puts India at par on the global stage much ahead of many global players. The whole Mangalyan story has not reached every one, we have all seen the image on the 2,000 rupee notes, but not given it a thought. 

When Puneet asked if I would be interested I jumped at the idea as I had invested a lot of time reading and following the project. I am very interested in Space Science, Space exploration are of great interest to me personally. 

I was extremely thrilled in being associated with this project, to be able to tell the story of these unsung heroes, underappreciated Indians who have made our country proud. That was and is the exciting journey for me. 

How did Dharma and you approach the film?
I came on board in November 2017. We took 4 months to write the screenplay, 2 months of pre-production and 4 days to shoot the film. The only footage is the Rocket launching which is DD footage. The sets were built, right casting, the right locations and shot it in every way like a feature film. Our DOP, Anuj Dhawan, has shot many feature films. 

We are trying to tell a large story in a very condensed manner in 20 minutes. When you tell a story this large there is a lot of information and details which a viewer should understand. 

The Craft took 300 days journey from Earth to Mars. The final journey when it reaches Mars, it has to reach the Martian orbit, which is very tricky as this happens when the craft is in occult, that is, it disappears from the Control room’s view. 

On September 24, there was a time period of 25 minutes when the craft disappeared behind Mars, during this time the craft slows down to enter the Martian orbit. The Control room had lost all contact, communication with the craft and the tension in the room was palpable. We decided to set the film in this time period in the control room during these 25 minutes. We then go to the flashback as to how the craft got to this point. Nailing that structure and that working cleanly was what took us so long to work on the screenplay. 

The film is close to reality when it came to casting, technology and down to every single aspect and event in the mission. The time it took off to when it entered the Mars orbit, what the setbacks were and we have depicted these points exactly as it happened. 

Are you happy with the final film?
I am extremely happy and also thank Diageo for trusting in me and giving me this chance. 

Shashwat Bhatt, Director - Elements Mediaworks, creative partners for Diageo for Mission Mars, said, “It has been a great experience working as creative partners on Johnnie Walker - The Journey’s first ever brand film for India. Mission Mars was a story waiting to be told and it’s been absolutely gratifying to take on this challenge and to see this entire campaign come alive.”

Punit Malhotra, Producer, Dharma 2.0, added here, “I’m really excited to see Imran turning director. He’s always been so talented and now he makes a debut under Dharma 2.0 is a testament to the journey Imran as an artist is making. As a director you have the opportunity to tell stories and to join hands with Johnnie Walker - The Journey, that has for years been telling stories across the world and inspiring millions, we have the opportunity here to tell India’s biggest achievement in the last decade. ‘Mission Mars; resonates perfectly with this purpose that lauds those hidden heroes who made it possible and we can continue to celebrate them for years to come.”

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