Johnnie Walker has just unveiled a new whisky for women

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At the start of Women’s History Month, world renowned whisky makers Johnnie Walker have become the latest brand to become embroiled in a controversy over female-focused products. Throughout March this year, their signature black label booze will be emblazoned with a top-hat clad “Jane”, rather than the usual “Johnnie”. In light of some products’ recent public faux pas, the plan has received a mixed reception.

New Jane Whisky bottle Credit: Robb Report

According to Bloomberg Press, the move is an attempt from Johnnie Walker’s parent company Diageo Plc to “widen the appeal of their product whilst celebrating women”. Johnnie Walker Vice President Stephanie Jacoby added: "Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women. It's a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand.”

However, the concept of gender specific drinks has been met with no small degree of scorn and cynicism. Critics have taken to social media to voice their concerns over the “patronizing” tone of the campaign, in particular questioning whether women do in fact find the idea of Scotch “intimidating”. One Twitter user implored brands to “STOP making products ‘for her’” unless they are intended only for female use. Another joked that the whisky had a lower ABV “to represent the wage gap”.

Companies clumsily trying to launch gender specific products as a way to expand their appeal is not a new story. Earlier this year, chip giants Doritos were widely ridiculed after their CEO announced plans for a brand new, female-friendly version of the corn-based snack.

Designed to prevent public eating embarrassment, the new creations were supposed to be less crunchy and leave less residue on the fingers. Women were near unanimous in their condemnation of the idea, and were angry at the suggestion that they would feel more awkward about eating in public simply because of their gender. The project plug was pulled shortly after.

Though the Johnnie Walker situation does bare certain similarities with the Lady Doritos disaster, the case for exploitative marketing is not as clear cut as it may seem. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, Johnnie Walker sent a statement to The Daily Meal, which went into further detail over their intentions.

"We want to be very clear that this is not a new product made just for women. The whisky in the Jane Walker Edition is our signature Johnnie Walker Black Label blend, the core marque of our Johnnie Walker brand. Black Label represents the pinnacle of our more than 200 years of blending expertise and is an award-winning whisky enjoyed around the world by a diverse community of whisky enthusiasts, including men and women."

Johnnie Walker went on to add that Jane was not intended to be a temporary feature and would remain a “permanent addition to the brand iconography”. Furthermore, one dollar from every bottle that’s sold will be given directly to organisations that support women and women’s causes. It seems as though this is a campaign that’s had significantly more thought than “Lady Doritos”.

Rows of Johnnie Walker whisky Credit: BrandSpur Nigeria

All in it, it looks as though Jane Walker’s introduction is a well-intentioned, if poorly-executed, marketing scheme. However, in a fundamentally unequal world where women earn 25 percent less than their male counterparts, and a paltry 27 of the Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs, hopefully campaigns like this can be the catalyst for more meaningful change.