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Special Project

Special Project

Johnnie Walker First Strides Initiative

Entered in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion


Johnnie Walker, the world’s No. 1 Scotch and a global icon with over 200 years of heritage, has always stood for progress, inspiring people with its iconic ‘Striding Man’ logo and “Keep Walking” mantra.

To reinforce the brand’s commitment to progress, Johnnie Walker launched First Strides - an ongoing initiative to celebrate and enable the people, communities and organizations taking bold steps to move culture forward. In bringing the initiative to life, Johnnie Walker had three objectives: bring awareness to the trademark’s ongoing equity platform rooted in action; drive recognition for the brand’s commitment to championing bold “firsts” in culture; and most importantly, create meaningful impact towards collective progress with underserved and underrepresented communities that are undeniably driving culture forward. These objectives have brought Johnnie Walker to establish a strong history of advocating for equality and uplifting diverse communities spanning music, film, sports, art, hospitality and technology. 

To achieve these objectives, Johnnie Walker identified three areas in culture where there were significant gaps preventing the advancement of gender equality: 1) women in leadership positions, 2) recognition for women filmmakers, and 3) visibility for professional women athletes. Through collaborative action with women-first organizations and individuals working to progress the women’s equality agenda during key cultural moments throughout the year, the First Strides initiative generated meaningful conversations and provided resources to help women achieve their goals in pursuit of a more equitable and inclusive world.


On Women’s Equality Day, Johnnie Walker announced the next phase of First Strides with the ambition to close the gender leadership gap by developing a community of women empowered to lead in both public and private sectors. The brand pledged to support the goals of IFundWomen and She Should Run. To elevate these organizations and drive conversation, Johnnie Walker tapped Lilly Singh’s production company, Unicorn Island, to produce a video series for social media that highlighted the challenges faced by women in leadership. Lilly was featured in the first video that set the stage for the brand’s commitment. Sophia Bush was featured in a second video that addressed women business leaders and announced a grant program for women entrepreneurs. A third video timed to Midterm Elections starred Aurora James and focused on encouraging more women to consider running for elected leadership.

During Women's History Month, Johnnie Walker expanded First Strides to address the gender gap in the film industry. The aim was to bring visibility to the bold women making great strides in the industry, and equipping emerging women filmmakers with the experience, skills and connections needed to achieve their goals. Drawing from the insight that women filmmakers make up only 24% of the top filmmaking roles in the industry, Johnnie Walker looked to awards season to turn Hollywood's most iconic symbol on its head by creating its own red carpet, honoring the industry-defying strides of women filmmakers. The carpet featured seven innovative filmmaking women, none of whom had ever been nominated for Best Director. With a goal to increase visibility for women storytellers, the campaign inspired consumers to watch more women-made films through a collaboration with global streaming platform MUBI and sought to build the pipeline of women in the industry in partnership with non-profit organization Women In Film (WIF).

As excitement was building for the Women’s World Cup, Johnnie Walker continued to drive conversation and support for gender equality, calling on consumers to Watch Women’s Sports not just every four years, but year-round to help increase the mere 10% of total sports coverage women athletes receive. The brand teamed up with Hannah Waddingham to create ‘Match Day Memos’ that fans could sign up for to remind them to tune into the tournament while highlighting how their participation can advance equality in sports with insights created by nonprofit partner Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF). Sharing the ambition to bring women’s sports to the masses and tapping into a community of dedicated women’s sports fans to amplify the campaign’s CTA, Johnnie Walker partnered with Just Women’s Sports to direct consumers to sign up for the memos and view the tournament’s schedule on a custom web page. Underscoring the one team approach to achieving gender equality, Johnnie Walker collaborated with celebrated illustrator, Monica Ahanonu to create limited edition warm up tops that players from NWSL partners NJ/NY Gotham FC and Angel City FC wore before the brand’s Women’s Empowerment Game. Proceeds further supported the mission of WSF.


First Strides has generated impactful conversation across earned and social media platforms, amassing 3B+ impressions, and $1M+ in funding has gone towards women entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations working toward gender equity.

Lilly’s Women’s Equality Day content calling for gender parity in leadership was nominated for a People's Voice Webby Award, and garnered 24K positive engagements. Following the announcement, IFundWomen received 6,000+ applications for their grant program resulting from the buzz on press and on social. Aurora’s co-branded merch raised $160,000 for She Should Run and visibility helped the organization achieve its goal of reaching 250,000 new women.

The Red Carpet Strides programming included a $350K contribution to WIF to help celebrate this year’s 65 women nominees during their Oscar party and fund critical programming for advancing equality in screen industries. The MUBI partnership reached unprecedented success, with an 80% increase in clicks to the women-made films landing page in March vs. February. Views for the Women Directors group also increased by 90%. 

The Match Day Memo campaign drove headlines and reached a wide range of consumer audiences across publications including Ad Age, Adweek, and USA Today. More than 1,600 fans signed up to receive Hannah’s memos and the Just Women’s Sports page received 2M+ impressions within a few weeks following the announcement. Hannah and Monica attended the Women’s Empowerment Game to support the players and joined them in holding the pre-game banner displaying Watch Women’s Sports. Over 200 merch units with Monica’s design were sold on the teams’ online shops.


Video for Johnnie Walker First Strides Initiative

Entrant Company / Organization Name

Johnnie Walker