Diageo: We have the power to normalise gender equality

The alcoholic beverages giant says speaking the truth about diversity through its advertising will be key to success over the coming years.

whisky in story

Diageo is aiming to use its position as one of the biggest alcohol companies in the world to facilitate change and normalise gender equality.

Speaking at the Advertising Association’s Lead conference today (26 January), the company’s chief marketing and innovation officer Syl Saller said she hopes Diageo’s brands, which include Guinness, Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker, can “act as a catalyst for social change” over the coming years.

Addressing a political backdrop that has seen “falsehoods given equal billing with truths”, Saller spoke of Diageo’s opportunity to stand up in “areas where human rights are not respected.”

She said Diageo currently spends $2.5bn (£2bn) a year on advertising but admitted this didn’t guarantee success, with recent Havas data suggesting “73% of people would not care if all brands ceased to exist”. In order to turn these doubters into backers, she advised: “In this new era of transparency, consumers care about what brands do beyond their functional benefits. They want brands to help them navigate an unequal world.

“We feel there’s an opportunity for our brands to act as a catalyst for social change; especially in areas where human rights are not respected. We can talk.”

Diageo’s marketing has shifted to reflect more diverse themes over recent years. Its iconic Guinness brand, for example, launched a Rugby World Cup 2015 ad featuring rugby player Gareth Thomas, who discussed his experiences coming out as homosexual in the sports world.

Saller said she was a fan of the recent work of Malteasers and its award-winning ads touching on people living with disabilities, which she said “proved you can have fun when tackling diversity”.

Of Diageo’s next marketing moves, Saller said it is currently working on some socially-minded projects with the Johnnie Walker whisky brand in the China market. She also added: “We now have the power to normalise gender equality. Continuing to lead with a brand purpose is our choice and a choice that we believe has not only financial benefits but brand health benefits as well.”

The alcoholic beverage giant, which also owns the Smirnoff and Captain Morgan brands, saw pre-tax profits rise 16% to £2.1bn for the six months ending December 31 2016. It also recorded a better-than-expected 4.4% rise in sales for the period, an increase it attributed to “favourable exchange rates”.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here