Johnnie Walker And Instagram: Anatomy Of A Real-Time Social Media Campaign

PSFK joined Johnnie Walker at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza to see their new photosharing platform in action.

This past weekend, PSFK attended the Italian Grand Prix at Monza as a guest of Johnnie Walker. We were there to witness the ongoing roll out of an Instagram campaign, developed with their social media agency, Edelman, that began a few weeks earlier.

To provide some background, the Johnnie Walker brand joined Instagram on August 24th, 2012. To kickstart the brand’s Instagram presence, the Johnnie Walker and Edelman team crafted a four-week campaign, the aim of which was to share stories relevant to the brand through the eyes of some very influential Instagrammers. In all three Instagramers will capture four stories in four weeks, including a look at the Johnnie Walker distillery in Scotland, a ‘Step Inside the Circuit’ in Monza with the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula One team, which Johnnie Walker sponsors, a visit to the Johnnie Walker House in Shanghai for a unique ‘whisky journey’ and the launch of a new luxury product in Asia.

While the campaign kicked off with Chris Ozer (@ChrisOzer) documenting a trip to the Johnnie Walker distillery in Scotland, we spent time on the second leg of the campaign with Philippe Gonzalez (@PhilGonzalez), the Founder of Instagramers, a world-wide network of local Instagram chapters. Phil was granted top-level press credentials by Formula One Management and an all-access pass by the Mercedes McLaren Formula One team. Over the course of the race weekend, his task was to tell the story of the Johnnie Walker Formula One experience through his own eyes.

Phil came armed with an iPhone 4s and unique lens attachment that allowed him to take both fisheye and macro shots. His apps of choice are Camera+, Hipstamatic and Noir. We asked him about his take on the experience and this is what he had to say:

How was your overall Johnnie Walker experience?

It was really amazing. I got more access to places like the pit-boxes and the brand center than I could have imagined. I also had the opportunity to spend time with Steve Tee, who is the official McLaren photographer and has 25 years of experience photographing Formula 1. He served as my mentor and showed me the ropes as I made my way through the experience. Without Steve next to me as a familiar face within the pitlane, I would not have been able take such candid pictures of the F1 drivers in their own “private” areas, in the pit-boxes, etc.

In light of your stature from Instagramers, you get approached by a lot of brands. Why did you decide to take on this particular project?

I have a great job at Chellomulticanal, a Spanish TV broadcasting company where I am a New Media Manager.  Instagamers is actually my hobby and it grew into a big network very suddenly. While it takes a lot of my time, I do it for fun, not for money. This gives me the freedom to chose which brands I would like to work with independent of economic considerations. My thought process is always ‘which partnership is going to make for the most interesting, creative, output and which will have the most positive impact on the worldwide Instagramers brand image. In the last months, top brands have approached me and I had to say no on some occasions. I prefer to work with one partner at a time and not “combine” several actions at the same time.

Were you surprised by how much work was involved?

Yes! I thought that the trip would be more relaxed, but offering “live coverage” through Instagram means taking a lot of pictures, editing them on-the-fly and going through the upload process. All of this while trying not to miss any of the action in the pit-lane and around the circuit. That said, the effort was worth it and was a lot of fun!

What elements of the process made your job easier/harder?

I think the most difficult part was being in the McLaren pit-boxes with two iPhones taking pictures of the cars. Formula 1 teams don’t usually like photographers and TV cameras being so close to the cars, as there is a lot of secrecy around the various mechanical bits. And, I had to explain many times to engineers what I was doing. Smartphones are usually a “dangerous” weapon as you could take a picture and share it within seconds with another team.

With respect to the Johnnie Walker marketing and PR team, it was quite fluid. The only thing that slowed us down was getting approval of the pictures from the McLaren team.  But this is understandable, as they don’t want pictures of proprietary technology floating around.

We also spoke to Alain Dibo, Global Marketing Manager for Johnnie Walker, about the campaign and the experience of launching the Johnnie Walker brand on Instagram:

Why did you choose Instagram as a platform for Johnnie Walker?

As a brand whose values are rooted in progress, Johnnie Walker is committed to embracing social media innovation that combines our strong heritage with current trends. As such, we are always looking at how we can integrate the latest social media trends into our strategy. We found that Instagram is the right platform to take our visual storytelling strategy to the next level – and tell our story in a new and compelling way.

How did you choose your Instagram partners?

With our agency partner Edelman, we did extensive research on Instagram and its users, in order to establish who the key influencers were in the space. We then put a clearly defined set of criteria in place, including number of followers and the style of images taken, to ensure that we were not only selecting the most influential, but also most fitting partners for the campaign. However, the most important factor for us when choosing our Instagram partners was ensuring that the campaign would tell the Johnnie Walker brand story in a meaningful way, while benefiting both their Instagram feed and ours.

What are the metrics of success you are applying to this program?

As with all Johnnie Walker social media campaigns, we have a clear set of metrics in place to measure the success of the campaign. Number of new fans joining the feed is a clear indicator of success; however, we are also tracking fan engagement with the Instagram feed, to ensure we have a deeper understanding of how well Johnnie Walker messages are being communicated to fans.  To give you an indication of the campaign success to date, we have generated more than 10,000 new followers since launching the feed on the 24th August. To mark this success, Instagram have just added Johnnie Walker to its suggested users list. By the end of 2012, our aim is to be one of the top 20 brands on Instagram.

We took a couple of things away from the experience that may be useful to brands and agencies when thinking through their ‘real-time’ social media experiences:

Getting content approvals at the speed of the social web takes a dedicated team – The spirits business operates in a regulated environment. As a result, bringing marketing messages to market can be an onerous task. This is a particular hinderance when trying to operate at the speed of the social web. What we witnessed was an effort to publish photos quickly that required a Johnnie Walker Executive (Alain Dibo) and an Edelman associate (Abby Ryan), working tirelessly throughout the weekend to push photos, and their attached comments/tags live. This process was time and labor intensive, required multiple smart phones and lots of battery extenders. Put simply, a lot of time and effort went into rapidly ensuring that Phil’s photos we able to see the light of day.

Trust the talent and leverage their base – The reason that Phil has been successful on Instagram is because he is an excellent storyteller.  He has a photographers eye and understands the importance of relaying a seamless narrative to his audience.  This includes the pace with which the photos are released as well as the time of day that they are published. We were impressed by how open Johnnie Walker was to allowing Phil to dictate this portion of the campaign. They empowered him and let him apply his knowledge.

And, brands and agencies are becoming savvier at selecting influencers with which to work. They are choosing people that have sizable social network followings. While there are lots of fantastic photographers in the world, many of whom have more photographic training than Phil, it is he who has amassed a loyal, deeply engaged following. When posting photos to the Johnnie Walker Instagram account, @philgonzalez was referenced as the photographer, and as a result, the brand was able to leverage his presence on Instragram to kickstart traffic and engagement for Johnnie Walker.

Let the talent capture the experience and let the agency/brand insert the brand story – At one point during the weekend, Phil captured a great shot of Jenson Button, the McLaren driver walking through the pit lane.  The driver was deep in thought, walking quickly with his head down. When the picture arrived to Abby Ryan’s phone, she put two and two together and asked Phil if he could rotate the shot that the driver was shown walking in the other direction – the same direction as Johnnie Walker is shown walking in the iconic Striding Man logo.  The message tied to the picture read, “A wise man said, ‘You must remain focused on your journey to greatness… Keep Walking.’” In this instance, having Abby on–site, acting as a filter on behalf of the brand allowed for a photo to quickly become something that tied directly into the brand. You can see the before and after photo above…

Find a partner that is willing to WORK – While Phil wasn’t paid for his efforts, he put in a tremendous amount of effort to ensure that his fellow Instagramers, Race tracks are grueling environments with little protection from the sun, a tremendous amount of noise, and a lot of walking to get to the various parts of the circuit. It became very apparent that without a dedicated partner in Phil, Johnnie Walker and Edelman would not have gotten the shots that they needed to make this campaign work. The process of vetting partners by brands and agencies definitely needs to take into account how hard they are willing to work. As anyone who works in social media will attest, it takes a lot of man hours and effort to make a campaign run.

PSFK compiled a gallery of images below that showcase Phil’s photography.  Enjoy!

@johnniewalker
@edelman
@igers
@philgonzalez

 Johnnie Walker

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