Mad Man Walker


Has anyone else seen this commercial for Johnnie Walker that usually airs during Mad Men? I saw it again this past Sunday night and after about seven viewings it's really starting to bother me.

First off, this is the most blatent attempt yet to use the popularity of Mad Men's drinking culture to sell a particular product. What surprises me is the fact that Diageo paid for it, rather than just aluding to it like everyone else does. Every whisk(e)y company out there is capitalizing on the success of the show, especially rye producers (I say this because more people come into K&L every week looking for rye to make Manhattans for their Mad Men party), but this new Johnnie Walker spot marks the first time I've actually seen a paid actor from the show making an attempt to market one particular brand.

Like most major companies looking to capitalize on pop culture trends, Diageo is about three years late to the party. Forget the fact that Don Draper seems to drink Canadian Club more than anything and that Roger Sterling always pours vodka. Forget the fact that the past two seasons have focused more on the business than the boozing. It's still fun as hell to drink liquor while watching an episode of Mad Men. What I don't see anymore, however, is the same glamour in Don Draper's character. We know too much about him now and his recent actions have made him look weak and childish. He's like a rock band releasing a new album after rehab. The music may be interesting and profound, but it's no longer fresh or cutting edge.

So instead of Jon Hamm, Diageo hires the sultry Christina Hendricks to play a combination of Don Draper and Joan Harris. She walks with the sexy swagger of our favorite secretary (now SCDP partner), but talks with the forceful authority of an ad writer. A piano-driven jazz hook plays that can't decide whether it's playful or seductive. Christina turns around and we see her face. The shot cuts to a pair of high-heels, slowly walking towards the camera, toe over toe. We see Christina's full-figure (no pun intended) and everything is slightly muted except for the lighted area over her breasts. She saunters towards the screen. "It's classic," we hear her say, although her mouth does not move. We see a shot of her waist as Christina stops, sways her hips, and places one hand on her side, saying "It's bold." She grabs a rocks glass of whisky, holds it up to the camera, and finally claims, "It's Johnnie Walker. And you ordered it." A static shot of the bottle along side a whisky and soda closes the commercial, with a stenciled version of Christina's signature tracing the screen.

So, what do you think?

If I'm Don Draper I tear that idea up. I throttle the writer who came up with something so derivative, obvious, and boring. "If I wanted something that sounded like me, I would have written it myself," is what I imagine Draper saying to this proposal. It's not only that the Mad Men opportunity is past its prime, it's the technical aspects as well. The direction is first-year film school, the cinematography is amateurish, and the lighting rather trite. The commercial is attempting to bring Christina's sex appeal to Walker Red, yet Hendricks' movements seem too choreographed and unnatural. She moves like a doll rather than the intimidating force of her character, limiting her effectiveness. The line "It's Johnnie Walker and you ordered it" irks me as well. It's too much Mad Men, not enough Johnnie Walker. It makes Walker Red feel like a punchline rather than a centuries-old product. It's such an attempt to be Don that it's almost a caricature.

The commercial wants the consumer to feel confident in his choice of Walker Red. The idea of affirmation is classic Draper. As Don once told Lucky Strike, good advertising is "a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance in whatever it is you're doing. It's OK. You are OK." However, the way the Walker commercial comes together is clumsy, and more reminiscent of Dudley Moore's pitch to Jaguar than Don Draper's.

While, to me, it seems that Johnnie Walker was looking to combine Don and Joan into one person, they ended up with Pete Campbell – frat boy chic.

Back to the drawing board, Peggy.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll