Diageo Spain —— Johnnie Walker


Service: Sports sponsorship management
Sector: Spirits


DIAGEO, the multinational spirits company, closed a multi-year sponsorship deal with the McLaren Formula 1 team and the championship organisers. Although Formula 1 was an ideal marketing platform for generating notoriety and brand building, the association between driving, risk and alcohol threw up various potentially controversial issues for stakeholders and public opinion.

The priorities for the company were:

  • To form part of the solution to alcohol-related road traffic accidents and to lead the positioning in responsible consumption in order to anticipate the prejudice that could arise from the self-regulation of advertising by the FEBE [Spanish Spirits Federation], which had traditionally self-imposed a veto on this type of sponsorship.
  • To associate the Johnnie Walker brand with positive values for driving, such as zero tolerance to alcohol and safety.


PROA drew up a strategy based on three key factors:

  • Design of promotional activities for the sponsorship of an educational or awareness raising nature about the importance of not mixing alcohol and driving. For example, a safe driving courses format was developed that included a section in which reduced faculties when driving could be felt through technical modifications to the cars.
  • Participation in promotional activities by opinion leaders and influential people in the world of road safety so they could see the work being done by the brand in the best interests of that awareness for themselves.
  • Engagement with motor sports fans by developing an online game called Winning Strategy and hiring the McLaren F1 driver, Pedro de la Rosa, to act as ambassador and communicate the message. The driver gave credibility to the message and his attendance to promotional events encouraged engagement by the target audience.


The FEBE abandoned its reticence towards the sponsorship when it could see that this activity was not affecting the reputation of spirits companies. Similarly, opinion leaders joined the message and gave increased credibility to the initiatives promoted by the brand in the media, with special emphasis on the safe driving courses and possible effects of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The Formula 1 sponsorship was a great success and helped build the premium image the brand sought, while the responsible consumption message did not detract from the opportunities for the message to reach its targets, in actual fact it enabled it to venture into territories unrelated to motor sports.

The strategy of using a driver of recognised standing as ambassador for the activities was repeated the following year worldwide due to the success of this initiative in Spain.

The work by Diageo Spain was recognised as Best Practice Global by the McLaren team from among all its sponsors.