Ad of the Day: Johnnie Walker

Leo Burnett Sydney mixes up the most shameless Old Spice ripoff yet

Johnnie Walker and Leo Burnett Sydney would like to present: the man your man could steal like.

Plenty of advertisers—mostly notably, Dairy Queen—have shamelessly co-opted the style of Wieden + Kennedy's award-winning Old Spice work with Isaiah Mustafa. But Johnnie Walker takes it to a new level in this Australian spot directed by Harold Einstein. Here, we have a suave gent pitching scotch as the drink of the rich and powerful—with goofy sight gags and ultra-witty dialogue yanked directly from the W+K work. [UPDATE: Not literally directly.] The rhythms of the writing are practically identical—just not as good. Our hero enjoys getting whiffs of "the sultry tang of a woman's hair" (huh?) and says his drink of choice is "every bit as important as the important discussions important men discuss." Don Johnson also makes a silly cameo midway through, for added whimsy.

The Important Man even slaps some scotch on his face like aftershave at one point. Perhaps that's supposed to be an acknowledgment of the source material. But it doesn't make it any less embarrassing. The Old Spice work was so fresh and original at the time. To recycle it so explicitly, and pretend your copy is fresh, is the height of hack work.

The Johnnie Walker tagline comes in handy here. Leo Burnett Sydney, next time you see a campaign you envy and would like to imitate, keep walking.

UPDATE: Andy DiLallo, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett Sydney, responds below:

Response from Andy DiLallo, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett Sydney:

     "Everyone is entitled to an opinion so although I disagree wholeheartedly with yours I accept it for what it is, an opinion, but in the interest of fair and balanced journalism I would like to share mine with your readers. If Fox News can claim to offer it, surely so can Adweek.

     So, lets talk cold hard opinion. What you are implying in your article is that no other brand globally can use 'goofy sight gags and ultra-witty dialogue' without infringing on the holly grail of American advertising, Old Spice's 'The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.'

     Then you out-and-out deceive your audience by saying that my agency's spot for Johnnie Walker actually yanked dialogue directly from the W+K work. Where exactly did we do that? You said it, so I assume you can point it out. I have triple checked and can't seem to find it. Surely a journalist of your stature wouldn't just make up fiction to serve his point? [Editor's note: This wasn't meant literally, and has been clarified in the text.]

     Then you go on to say the rhythm of the writing is practically identical. Sorry, I don't really see it. Old Spice is written to be delivered in one continuous take, running the dialog together into itself, so it forces the viewer to hang on every word attentively.

     The rhythm of our spot for Johnnie was written to have a very punctuated dialog, using dramatic pauses to amplify the delivery of the intended humor, focusing viewers to pay attention to very specific words throughout—e.g., Scotch, Fiduciary, Don Johnson, Sit Down, Stand Up. Saying these two spots' rhythms are practically identical seems like a bit of an overexaggeration.

     As far as saying the writing in our spot isn't as good as the 2010 Film Grand Prix's, honestly, whose writing is? I am comfortable accepting that point as true.

     I am also comfortable with comparisons being drawn between our spot and "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like." As a matter of fact, this isn't the only comparison out there. People have also drawn parallels to Dos Equis and earlier work from Old Spice, circa Bruce Campbell, to name but a few. But accusing us of stealing work and then labeling us as hacks is completely unfair and out of line!

     Our work is of a genera, one that is far older than Old Spice and far broader than advertising. People like Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Ricky Gervais and Alec Baldwin have been in this space for years. It seems unrealistic to think only one ad can now occupy this space—and if comparisons can be drawn, that they are intentional and symptomatic of an epidemic. I actually sat on the Cannes Film jury that award Old Spice, and I can honestly tell you, hand on heart, that the room was split at that time between, ironically enough, Old Spice and Johnnie Walker's "The Man Who Walked Around the World." Funnily enough, the argument then was that Old Spice felt too close to the old Tango ads to win. We all know how that argument ended.

     I'm my opinion, you saw a chance to write a puff piece where you could position yourself as the purveyor of justice that doles out backhanded bitchslaps to anyone you see fit—doing so by attaching yourself and your opinion to the defense of a brand guaranteed to grab headlines (Old Spice), assuming you would face only limited backlash to yourself or your magazine, as the recipients of your lashings resided on the other side of the planet and are inconsequential in your market. But hey, it's only one man's opinion after all."


Client: Johnnie Walker

Spot: "The Important Man"

Agency: Leo Burnett, Sydney

Chief Creative Officer: Andy DiLallo

Creative Director: Tim Green

Copywriter: Grant McAloon

Art Director: Cameron Harris

Agency Producer: Margot Fitzpatrick

Production Company: Station Film

Director: Harold Einstein

Producer: Eric Liney

Director of Photography: Dante Spinotti

Editing: Cutting Room

Editor: Merritt Duff

Postproduction/FX: The Mill

Producer: Rachel Stones

Producer: Melanie Wickham

Sound Postproduction: Song Zu

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