Liam Mícheál Ó Conaire
Guinness Appreciation Society

Whilst I’m usually keen to review music or discuss radio-related things I feel it is about time I expressed an appreciation for a pint of the black stuff, Guinness. I’m not talking the drink specifically, although when the time arises a pint of Guinness is an appropriate thirst-quencher (usually around March 17th and not during an evening of ‘pub golf’), but I believe the real genius of Guinness lies in it’s advertising.

 

More often that not, advertising is a nuisance, a plague on precious TV-viewing time and, at worst, can induce deep feelings of rage, ‘Go Compare’ anyone? But since it’s earliest days, the marketing team behind Guinness have managed to strike the perfect balance between intelligent humour, memorable visuals and slogans that won’t have you cringing in pain.

One of the earliest images to be linked to Guinness was the cartoon of a toucan balancing a pint of Guinness on its beak. I understand that the toucan is hardly the most logical animal to represent a drink that hails from the soggy shores of Ireland, a country not famed for it’s exotic birdlife. However, would we really have preferred a traditional Irish advertisement depicting a loveable little man in a green suit riding a pot of gold and dousing himself in Guinness? This is the major success of Guinness advertising as it doesn’t settle for cheap ideas or rely on stereotypes to push its profile. Instead, campaigns like the toucan create an entire idea from scratch and have been so successful it now feels strange not to associate toucans with Guinness.

 

Since the 30’s the toucan played a pivotal role in the advertising campaign for Guinness and things only got better with the introduction of motion picture advertisements, allowing the guys behind Guinness to push their imagination further than ever before. What comes to mind when you think of televised Guinness adverts? Let’s all be honest it’s the horses isn’t it? An advert that can rightfully be called iconic and often the voted the best advert ever made. The advert in question is ‘Surfer’, launched in 1999; it depicts a group of surfers waiting for the perfect wave and when it arrives the wave crest transforms into a horde of stampeding horses. If you haven’t seen it before, a) what cave are you from?, and b) have a look at it here.

So how does surfing relate to Guinness? Well it’s all about the wait. Relating the wait for an appropriate surfing wave to the time it takes for a pint of Guinness to settle is perfect in its subtle blatancy. The use of such a wanky oxymoron sums up the success of Guinness advertising as it creates an impressive piece of cinematic iconography and effectively follows it with “that’s a bit like Guinness isn’t it?”. Guinness advertising is not about promoting the taste or the price or exploiting its Irish origins, it is about creating powerful imagery and promoting Guinness by association. As drinks go, a stout like Guinness may not seem cool to anyone under the age of 65 but the allure of Guinness is all thanks to the intrigue and excitement of the advertising that doesn’t bend over backwards to tell you how super-dooper the drink is.

 

‘Surfer’ is not the only unforgettable advert created by Guinness either. In recent years Guinness has created some of the most well known adverts ever made and not one of them relies on how the ‘black stuff’ tastes. The Guinness adverts of the 80’s centred on the slogan ‘Not Everything In Black And White Makes Sense’, which gave way to some of the kookier ideas (such as this), whereas the 90’s focus on the idea of ‘Good Things Come To Those Who Wait’ created iconic adverts like ‘Surfer’ and ‘Anticipation’.

Guinness even excels at creating seasonal advertising, with a Christmas advert that airs annually on Irish television, posing a serious threat to Santa and his Coca Cola van for the ‘Most Sentimental Christmas Advert’ award. The last few years have seen Guinness take on a more international approach by promoting the worldwide appeal of Guinness with masterpieces such as ‘Tipping Point’, and the most recent campaign since 2009 has dedicated a world-recognised day to the man who founded Guinness, known as Arthur’s Day.

 

With such memorable pieces of film constantly being made, Guinness’ largest battle has surely been to always outdo itself. Yet, it doesn’t look like they will be disappointing TV viewers anytime soon as it continues to produce adverts that tell a story and don’t spoon-feed the audience with the benefits of Guinness. I remember giving a presentation about Guinness for a GCSE English assessment when I was 14. Not the most conventional of topics for a 14-year-old I’ll admit but that proves the strength of the marketing behind Guinness nonetheless as the memorable images and clever storylines feel relevant to people of all ages. Guinness advertising has never been about alcohol or pub culture, it’s always been about celebrating and marking those celebrations with others. 2012 continues that idea with the tagline of ‘Paint The Town Black’, bringing a Mediterranean village together, covered in paint, to celebrate Arthur’s Day. With the imagination of Guinness still going strong, I look forward to seeing what 2013 brings.

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