Inside the ‘In her Boots’ Johnnie Walker campaign via Leo Burnett

By Ruby Derrick | 30 November 2023

Leo Burnett and Johnnie Walker's In Her Boots campaign stitches together the stories of those who shaped women's football, many of who were mocked for playing a few short years ago.

AFLW (AFL Women's) sponsor Johnnie Walker worked with Leo Burnett Australia to celebrate the progress made in women’s sport through the creation of five pairs of handcrafted footy boots made from the footwear of past icons of the game. 

The boots are being gifted to current players, inspiring them to Keep Walking Boldly, representing the resilience, courage and bravery of the women who have walked before them. 

When the Leo Burnett team researched the project once they had the brief, the agency unearthed incredible stories of women that had been playing football, says Stacey Karayannis - associate creative director at Leo Burnett,. 

AFLW only started in 2017, despite women playing football for more than 100 years, she said.  

“They were playing at a time when it wasn't normal to be playing as women. They were hiding to play, getting laughed at by some men and boys on the field and news outlets were mocking them," Karayannis told AdNews.  

These women, notes Karayannis, were facing all these obstacles yet pushing through and playing anyways.  

“There were these incredible women that had shaped the game to get it to where it has gotten to 100 years later. But they weren't household names; no one had really heard of them before,” she said. 

“We wanted to make sure that we could capture these stories of these women who embodied the ‘Keep Walking’ spirit of Johnnie Walker and make sure that people would know how they had contributed to the sport.” 

The ‘In her Boots’ campaign conveys the bravery of different women who have paved the way for women’s sport.  

Karayannis said the approach the agency used to highlight this involved connecting the boots each woman had once worn to become somewhat of a storytelling device.  

“They were a way of literally sewing these women's stories into the history books. They became symbols for progress that could be passed down from the generation of these brave women to the women of today” she said.  

The boots became a way for the creative teams to contain the legacy of the game and create something that was symbolic of ‘Keep Walking Boldly’, said Karayannis.  

Hayden Abercrombie, marketing & innovation director at Australian spirits company Diageo, said the primary objective from a brand perspective for In her Boots was to build a greater sense of relevance for Johnnie Walker among the new generation of potential drinkers. 

“Walker has always been a brand that stood for progress. The 'Keep Walking' slogan is testament to that but we needed to imbue new meaning behind those two words, to better connect with what people care about today, particularly the people that we're trying to recruit into the brand. So we ended on this notion of collective progress," he said.  

This meant specifically shining the light on groups and individuals who are carving paths, in service of progress for others, not necessarily themselves, notes Abercrombie.  

“These unsung heroes who are selflessly doing amazing things for the betterment of others,” he said.  

The next challenge the teams wanted to tackle was identifying the people and properties who best reflected that sentiment.  

Where the companies landed was in the territory of diversity and inclusion, said Abercrombie.  

“It's an area that made blatant sense in the context of collective progress, but equally had potent cultural importance in Australia as well, particularly among younger audiences, who we were trying to drive greater appeal for the brand,” he said. 

The AFLW was then identified as that perfect partner, says Abercrombie, and it didn't take a lot of scratching at the surface to reveal the stories of those pioneers within the game. 

“Who unknowingly and purely for the love of the game, acted as the catalysts for the amazing property and experiences that we actually see today,” he said.  

“We worked closely with the AFLW team to ensure that we retained the integrity and perspective of those stories. That was integral to our approach so that the stories came to life authentically, particularly through the lens of community and importantly in the individual's own words - so no scripts or anything like that."

The campaign is a reflection of the progress of women’s sport over time. Abercrombie says it took more than 150 years for the women’s football competition to actually be established.  

“It’s kind of a travesty in itself. The recent progress though has been exponential, which is amazing to see. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but we're seeing rapid acceleration and growth,” he said.  

“The AFLW is now in its eighth season. Each year, the audience is only going to grow further, and we like to think we bottled that sentiment quite nicely in the stories that we’ve told to amplify that message in a genuine and meaningful way to a broader audience.” 

Diageo is committed to its partnership with the AFLW. The company intentionally decided not to go into the men's game, which has traditionally been seen as a very masculine category, particularly a brand like Johnnie Walker, said Abercrombie.  

“We thought it was important for us to support the stories in the women's game as that marker of new world progress. We've been an official sponsor for the women's game for nearly three years, and we'll be looking to utilise our platforms to help amplify further stories of progress and continue to give much needed fuel and attention to the game over the course of the coming years,” he said. 

On Monday, the company awarded its first Johnnie Walker award for progress at the W awards. Ruby Schleicher, player for the Collingwood Football Club in the AFLW, was the first recipient, says Abercorombie.  

“We're absolutely delighted to commemorate her contribution to the game. She's championing the sport brilliantly. She's raising its profile and lifting up her peers as she goes, so we know that Ruby will continue to be a real trailblazer and follow in the footsteps of her amazing predecessors,” he said.  

Karayannis said it was the fifth pair of boots that the teams made that became the award.  

“That pair was actually gifted to Ruby,” she said.  

When working with real people sharing real stories, the agency always felt it had to ensure each story was coming across authentically and telling their truth.  

“For us, it was also making sure we had that real breadth of stories as well. We didn't want to tell a one dimensional story here. There were many different obstacles that these women faced so we wanted to encapsulate that as well as we could, ensuring they were also as diverse as possible,” said Karyannis.  

PR for the campaign was handled by Herd MSL.  

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