Guinness was founded in 1759 but didn’t publish its first ad until 1794.In the early 20th century, the brewery began setting the standard for beer advertising with witty, engaging ads that helped create arguably the best-known beer worldwide.
People can still quote its first tagline—”Guinness is good for you”—even though it is 83 years old. More recently, the brewer campaigned on Facebook to set a record for the largest St Patrick’s Day party. (And yes, the Guinness Book of World Records was also originally a marketing stunt by the company.)
The company was already 63 years old when it started publishing ads. This engraving was published in 'The Gentleman's Magazine' with the caption 'Health, peace and prosperity'. It is considered to be one of Guinness's earliest ads.
When sales began to decline in the 1930s, Guinness hired S.H. Benson, an ad agency from London. The agency, which later merged with Ogilvy & Mather, would produce some of the best-known campaigns in advertising history.
Through much of the 20th century, doctors thought Guinness had medicinal properties. Even until the 1950s mothers in Irish hospitals were given Guinness after giving birth because of the high iron content.
So it's no surprise that the Benson agency's simple tagline 'Guinness is good for you' was a hit with consumers when it was introduced in 1929. The slogan remained the foundation of the brand for the next 40 years, until the advertising environment became a little more regulated.
John Gilroy, an art director at Benson, started working on the Guinness account in 1930 and illustrated almost all of Guinness' advertisements for the next 30 years.
This 'Girder' poster was the most popular in the 'Guinness for Strength' campaign that depicted men performing feats of ridiculous strength with the help of Guinness.
Gilroy had been trying to develop a Guinness family for a new campaign when he went to the circus and found inspiration from zoo animals that the brand would use until the 1950s.
First featured in a 1935 ad from Gilroy's zoo animal series, the toucan would become almost as synonymous with the Guinness brand as the harp on the label.
The toucan was initially intended to be a pelican, but was changed after poet Dorothy L. Sayers wrote:
If he can say as you can,
Guinness is Good for You,
How grand to be a Toucan,
Just think what Toucan do.
In 1951, the managing director of the Guinness Breweries, Sir Hugh Beaver, got into an argument over whether the koshin golden plover or the grouse was the fastest game bird in Europe. realising that this was impossible to confirm in reference books, he decided to publish a book that could end such disputes.
In 1954, Guinness gave away 1,000 copies of their Book of Records as a marketing ploy. Today the Guinness Book of World Records holds its own record as the best-selling copyrighted book series of all time.
The zoo animal posters would also serve as inspiration for Guinness' first television ads.
The Bayeux Tapestry is a 230 ft. long piece of cloth that depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England. In this very successful poster, Guinness re-imagined the event with soldiers drinking beer while riding into battle.
Guinness was one of the first companies to analyse consumer consumption habits. Their findings shifted their approach from the playful ads of John Gilroy to something more sophisticated. And for the first time, Guinness showed a person drinking their beer in an ad, as in 'Shipyard' (below).
Guinness moved its account from Benson to J. Walter Thompson (JWT) in 1969. Starting in 1970, JWT produced a series of very simple, but witty commercials. 'Black Pot' helped to enforce the brand's uniqueness compared to other beers and won the brand critical acclaim.
Produced by Irish agency ARKS Ltd, 'Island' won a Silver Cannes Lion and a CLIO in 1977. The commercial is also known as 'Ta siad ag teacht,' which translates to 'they are coming,' the only line spoken in the ad.
In June 1999, the commercial was named Ireland's best advertising of the century in a competition run by Marketing magazine.
In Britain, Guinness extended the toucans' 20-year career from print into TV. They became especially useful when the brewery introduced the beer in cans.
In the face of declining sales, Guinness needed a guaranteed home run in the ad department. Allen, Brady & Marsh's 'Guinnless' campaign was just that. A nod to the original Benson ads of the 1930s, the 'Guinnless' campaign played with the idea that the original slogan could no longer get by advertising regulators.
According to Diageo-Guinness U.S.A, within three months the campaign had achieved 87 per cent awareness among all adults--including a vicar in London, who placed a sign outside his church that read, 'Godliness isn't good for you'--and revived the brand.
Rutger Hauer, of Blade Runner fame, gained a cult following playing the 'Man with a Guinness' in the edgy 'Pure Genius' campaign.
This Ogilvy & Mather campaign featured posters, print ads, and TV commercials aimed to flatter the intelligence of drinkers by using thought-provoking quotations and statistics.
Inspired by a 1981 Guinness ad of the same name, 'Surfer' launched in Britain on St. Patrick's Day. Created by AMV-BBDO, the commercial was also influenced by Walter Crane's painting 'Neptune's Horses.'
'Surfer' received a Cannes Gold Lion, two gold pencils at the Design & Art Directors Association awards, and several Clios.
Following in the cinematic footsteps of 'Surfer,' this commercial tells the story of Irish Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, who was part of the Shackleton and Scott Antarctic expeditions in 1912.
Guinness has a history of Antarctic exploration. In 1909, Sir Douglas Mawson, an Australian explorer, left some of the beer behind at his South Pole base camp. According to Guinness, it was discovered by another expedition in 1927.
'noitulovE' shows the evolution of three Guinness-drinking guys from the primordial ooze to the present day--entirely in reverse.
The commercial, produced by AMV-BBDO, helped Guinness achieve its highest-ever sales volume and contributed to an increase in earnings at a time when the beer market was in decline, according to Diageo-Guinness U.S.A.
In this ad, the release of energy from a Guinness can starts a toppling sequence starting with dominoes, that progresses to fridges, televisions, mattresses and cars.
To celebrate the brand's 250th anniversary, Guinness decided to create their own holiday honouring founder Arthur Guinness. Now every Sept. 22 at 17:59 (the year of the company's founding) drinkers around the world--or at least in Dublin--honour his legacy.
Even though Guinness has its own holiday now, it will always be synonymous with St. Patrick's Day. (2011)
So here's a little St. Patrick's Day lesson from our favourite Irish beer. Slainte! (Cheers!)
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