Mexico is rising. You can see it in the country's swelling exports, the net-zero migration to the United States, the excitement of international bond investors, a recent credit upgrade from Standard & Poor's, a newly confident middle class, and a per capita GDP that has doubled since 2000. Not to mention a young, dynamic, handsome new president. In case you missed all these signs, though, you can also see Mexico's surge forward in a Scotch whisky ad.
The television spot says nothing about the product but everything about the country's long march from poverty toward prosperity. In the advertisement, thousands of Mexicans, men and women, young and old, are bound by chains to a massive boulder. They trudge forward up a dusty mountain, faces contorted and blackened, eyes downcast. The boulder pulls them back. A buzzard circles above. They push forward again, straining and wincing, and then -- with a crunch -- the boulder slides back downhill, throwing them to the ground.
But not so fast. One by one, they stand up and unchain themselves. Unburdened, they walk with gritted smiles and purpose up the dusty talus slope, leaving the boulder behind. Cue the soaring music. Cue the blue-sky vistas. Cue the tag line: "Keep Walking Mexico."
It's a brilliant ad, and you'd be forgiven for not immediately realizing it's for Scottish booze. (Frankly, the Sisyphean strivers look like they'd prefer water.) The only hint is the familiar Johnnie Walker logo, the stylized "Striding Man," accompanying the tag line. The metaphor of national achievement is clear, but the ad doesn't just tell the story of Mexico today. It also highlights Johnnie Walker's aggressive push into emerging markets and the rush by multinational consumer-products companies to catch the middle-class tsunami that is transforming the world.
The Brookings Institution's Homi Kharas estimates that the global middle class will hit 4.9 billion people by 2030, growing by 3 billion from today -- and they'll spend $56 trillion a year, up from $21 trillion today. Virtually all that growth will come from emerging economies. That's a lot of people walking upward -- and a lot of potential Johnnie Walker drinkers.
That's why executives from Starbucks to McDonald's to Coca-Cola see their future in the global middle class, and that's why Johnnie Walker's parent company, the booze behemoth Diageo, is pushing into liquor stores from Chile to China. Paul Walsh, a Diageo board member and former CEO, said in a statement about 2012 business results that the firm's "expanding reach to emerging middle class consumers in faster growing markets was the key driver of our volume growth." And Johnnie Walker, the world's No. 1-selling Scotch whisky, has been a crucial part of that growth. Today, four bottles of Johnnie Walker are consumed every second, with some 120 million bottles sold annually in 200 countries. Five of Johnnie Walker's top seven global markets are in the emerging world: Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, China, and a region the company calls "Global Travel Asia and Middle East."
From a small town in the Scottish Lowlands, the Striding Man has come a long way -- and he's still walking.