Johnnie Walker Pours Into Tech With HuffPost Live Sponsorship

Alcohol brand wants to embody pioneering spirit

Alcohol and technology may not seem like two topics that naturally fit together (at least in terms of ad partnerships), but Johnnie Walker is investing heavily in sponsored content that appeals to the techie crowd. As part of its longstanding Keep Walking campaign, the iconic alcohol brand is backing a 10-part HuffPost Live series called The Next Step, which focuses on tech influencers.

"We look for individuals whose next step holds all their potential, are intrinsically positive and forward looking, and rather than a perfectly successful journey might have had some bumps along the road," Brian Radics, Diageo's director of scotch whisky, said.

The brand also sponsored TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, the annual tech conference that highlights startups. Johnnie Walker's branding was prominently displayed during the event, and its crew filmed material for its own series and projects at the event. In addition, attendees could freely sample its products. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"The wonderful thing about having Johnnie Walker is it's obviously a wonderful consumer brand, and they see Disrupt elements in their own brand," said Ned Desmond, AOL Tech gm.

Radics said the liquor label was interested in advertising around tech because both the brand and the people in the digital community shared the same pioneering spirit. Of course, there may be another reason that Johnnie Walker is interested: With tech topics popular among males, it's the perfect market to target.

And, two-year-old HuffPost Live has refined its methods to sell a certain message to a targeted audience. While it will never create scheduled lineup like a TV channel would, president Roy Sekoff said the online network has realized that viewers want to know what time to tune in for certain content. It allows HuffPost to sell sponsored blocks around topics, like lifestyle or tech.

To maintain trust in its reporting, HuffPost Live has made it a policy never to sell native advertising but only allow for sponsored content. (For the uninitiated: Native advertising implies that the content was specifically created for a brand, while sponsored means a brand backed an editorially-directed idea.)

Sekoff said HuffPost's team tries to find "native introductions" for stories it would cover with or without sponsorship. He believes it's also why respected organizations like the United Nations want to work with the Web publication.

"We are first and foremost a journalistic enterprise. We are very careful about what we do with our brand, and we are very excited to work with brands. I don't think the U.N. would come to us if were just making nice commercials," he said.