On Thursday, over 13 million pints of Guinness will be consumed worldwide. You might assume that’s because it’s just an Irish beer, but the stout mogul had to make a name for itself first before the rest of the globe would catch on, which in large part is due to their advertising.
Since it’s inception in 1759, Guinness has had a quirky sense of self (founder Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease on the first property). Up until the 1930s, a large part of their “advertising” was just word of mouth. All that changed when in 1933, the Busch brothers bought their father 6 Clydesdale horses as a gift. The Clydesdales changed the advertising scene for not only the brewing industry but for all brands across the world.
Enter the S.H. Benson ad agency. Guinness hired the agency to beef up marketing, and a new employee by the name of John Gilroy was tasked with coming up with light-hearted propaganda posters that avoided specific use of beer and played up the self proclaimed “benefits” of it at the time. With phrases like “Always Time For A Guinness” and “Guinness For Strength,” the adverts became instant classics among beer drinkers. “Guinness Is Good For You” remains their most iconic phrase, and holds absolutely no merit to it (and we don’t care).
Along with these phrases, Gilroy included exotic animals in his posters in a campaign he called the “zoo” series. Among the ostrich with a pint glass stuck in it’s throat and the sea lion stealing his keeper’s beer, one of the most recognizable brand advert mascots still around emerged, the Guinness Toucan. The toucan became synonymous with Guinness and continued to help spread the peculiar messages of their brand to TV and beyond.
After WW2, Guinness took a new approach with adverts as TV began fighting to be the next advertising break through. Leaving the family-oriented theme behind, the ads took on a more sophisticated look, showing real life people drinking Guinness to relax and enjoy. This was the first time Guinness had used the image of someone drinking their beer in their 207 year existence. An almost unbelievable feat (it’s probably a... Guinness World Record).
These more sophisticated ads became very popular well into the late 70’s and continued to represent Guinness as legends and monopolies not only in the brewing industry but in the advertising world. With each drop in beer sales the company experienced, it had the perfect response in the form of advertising.
At the turn of the millennia, Guinness joined the realm of advertising where their logo and name were sometimes not even needed. The shape of their glass and color of the beer when it is settled became an icon in itself for Guinness. In many recent ads, different collages and mixed medias have been used to compose what looks to be a pint of Guinness.
Yet still to this day, reproductions of Gilroy’s famous poster are some of the most purchased posters in the world. I had the pleasure of visiting the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin in 2012, and upon entering, I thought I’d be met with floor upon floor of beer history. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find an in-depth history into their brand. 7 floors, to be exact. As you traverse each floor, you learn more and more about why the advertising and branding played such a pivotal role in Guinness’ history. One section is devoted to the many labels that the beer has seen over the years, another to the coasters, and of course, an entire montage to the toucan.
As a designer, I love seeing a company fully envelope itself in its brand, believe in it, and use it as a method of reengagement. Sometimes, brands can stay fastened to their adverts (see: Chick-fil-a), while others can be inconsistent and downright asinine (I still have nightmares of baby monkey dog). Guinness has proven for nearly 100 years that legacy can depend not only on your product, but how you present it, and they have truly taken the advert from a simple means of communication and turned it into an art form.