Jude Law and Anomaly Put a Joyful New Bounce in Johnnie Walker’s Step

Whisky brand blazes new trails

Move over, Coca-Cola. A different beverage is staking a claim to happiness. And this one's 80 proof!

Anomaly has updated Johnnie Walker's iconic "Keep Walking" campaign with a new attitude and a tweaked tagline: "Joy Will Take You Further. Keep Walking." This is the New York agency's first effort for the Diageo-owned Scotch whisky brand since taking over as lead agency from 15-year incumbent BBH last December. As such, comparisons, though perhaps unfair, are unavoidable.

BBH was much-lauded for its innovative output, which famously included "The Man Who Walked Around the World," Robert Carlyle's five-minute-plus narration of Johnnie Walker's history while strolling through the Scottish Highlands. Shot in one take, the beguiling, strangely hypnotic spot ranks as one of the great ads of the past decade.

A half-decade later, around the time BBH lost the brand, the agency went the single-take route once more, crafting "The Next Step," an almost expressionistic tale of a man who walks through an entire new year.

Anomaly builds on that foundation, asserting that steps taken with happiness in one's heart make the journey lighter—and ultimately more rewarding. A 90-second anthem spot establishes the campaign's theme with sage advice from Jude Law (who worked with Anomaly on a one-off short film for Johnnie Walker Blue Label last summer): "Blood, sweat and tears will get you there. But joy will take you further."

Law's gravel-voiced intensity carries appropriate gravitas, and the quick-cut cavalcade of images that follows is exhilarating, illustrating how achievers double-down on joy for maximum results. Supermodel Montserrat Oliver, rock band OK Go, artists Haas&Hahn, racing champion Jenson Button and actor Zhao Wei, among others, make appearances.

The celebs aren't famous enough to distract or make the proceedings feel gratuitous, and they also star in 20-second branded clips that focus on their various achievements. (Haas&Hahn, as is their wont, appear to be painting an entire town. Oliver, for some reason, blasts off in a jetpack.)

So, how do Anomaly's ads match up against efforts from BBH? The latter's work was more fluid and artful, and it excelled at capturing the 200-year tradition of Johnnie Walker in unexpectedly insightful ways. Conversely, Anomaly's campaign, a multimedia affair launching in 50 countries, bristles with fresh energy and gains immediacy with its nods to popular culture.

My main complaint is that "joy" is an all-too-easy fallback position, in and of itself derivative of countless campaigns for products of every kind. Also, the selection of Plastic Bertrand's "Ca Plane Por Moi" as the soundtrack makes the spots feel a hair too familiar and dulls some of the impact.

That said, using joy as the underpinning for personal journeys, or as a gauge for one's own progress and fulfillment, is an uplifting concept that could take the brand's advertising just about anywhere. It's a new direction, far from the pedestrian.

The 20-second clips appear below.

@DaveGian davegia@hotmail.com David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.