Good Things Come to Those Who…Advertise? Part II. The Gilroy Era
The first Guinness ad was published in the national press in February 1929. We know this because it says at the top in capitals: ‘This Is the First Advertisement Ever Issued in a national paper to advertise GUINNESS’. You can read it here on the Guinness website.
An unpromising headline maybe, but the rest of the ad is pretty good, stressing the product’s health-giving qualities. Guinness builds strong muscles, feeds exhausted nerves, enriches the blood, revives after bouts of influenza, and is a natural aid against insomnia. And at the bottom we find the famous slogan: ‘Guinness is Good for You’.
Guinness had a problem after the First World War. Sales fell away through the 1920s in Britain. Ireland was now an independent state, and Britain gave tax relief to its native brewers that made a British pint cheaper for consumers than an Irish one. The American market too was lost due to Prohibition, making for declining sales worldwide.
Guinness chairman Lord Iveagh regarded advertising as only ever a last resort and a sign of a poor product – but last resort time it was for Guinness. So in 1928 they turned to ad agency SH Benson, first of only five companies to hold the Guinness account in Britain. Benson’s were responsible that first ad, the result of going out into pubs and asking drinkers why they chose Guinness; it was good for you, they said, full of iron.
But it’s after 1930 that things really get going. That year saw the first poster produced by John Gilroy, Benson’s in-house artist. Over the next 25 years Gilroy created over 100 press ads and 50 posters for Guinness, working with copywriters who included literary figures like Dorothy L.Sayers and Bobby Bevan.
He gave Guinness the zookeeper who loses his pint to his animals, the sea lion who balances a pint on his nose, and the iconic Guinness Toucan – all paired with slogans like ‘Guinness for Strength’, ‘My Goodness, My Guinness’, and ‘Lovely Day for a Guinness’.
So did the introduction of advertising lift the flagging sales? Absolutely it did. The Guinness of the UK beer market rose in the next decade, with the new-found success enabling the building of the Park Royal Brewery in London in 1936 to the designs of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.
During the Second World War the Army asked Guinness to set aside 5 per cent of its total production for them. Of the figures I can find the most telling is that between 1939 and 1950 total sales were up by 65 per cent.