This is where things get really interesting. There’s more information available on Guinness sales in the noughties, and conflicting voices on the effectiveness of the multi-million pound epic ads.
Guinness was facing a series of challenges as the new millennium came into view. There was the perpetual issue of brand perception, of appealing to the 18-34 year old demographic. Stout, in particular, had difficulty in making sales among younger drinkers who preferred lighter, blander lagers. By 2007 lager sales represented 70 per cent of British beer sales.
Beer in the UK was increasingly being consumed not in pubs, but at home courtesy of cheap bulk buying at supermarkets. Nearly 40 per cent of the beer sold in the noughties was for home drinking. Despite introducing the widget in a can in 1988 to enable a good pour at home, Guinness has traditionally been seen as a pub drink rather than something to take home.
One of the answers Guinness came up with was to introduce new drinks – Extra Cold, Guinness Red, Mid-Strength, Guinness Golden Ale. The other solution was a new advertising campaign.
Having ditched Ogilvy and Mather Guinness turned to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. Their strapline for the campaign was ‘Good Things Come to Those Who Wait’ – a nod to the Irish Anticipation campaign of 1994. It takes 119.5 seconds to pour a perfect pint of Guinness, ostensibly a disadvantage now turned into a plus point of the product.
Faraway, exotic locations, mambo soundtracks, stylish direction, multi-million pound budgets: this was epic advertising aimed at lodging itself into the viewer’s mind, creating a talking point the next day. Each ad was a television event.
The positioning of the ads isn’t so far from the approach of the Rutger Hauer ads of the 80s. It’s Guinness marketed as the drink of the effortlessly cool, the individual, the man set apart. What it certainly is not is the drink of the lairy session-drinker who wakes up in a skip the next day.
The AMV BBDO ads began with Swimblack in 1998, made by director Jonathan Glazer and copywriter Tom Carty. It cost £3 million to make on location in Italy where the old swimmer Marco races the pint of Guinness, only his brother fixes things so he always wins.
Then came Surfer in 1999, another creation of Glazer and Carty and a nod to the Irish Surfer ad of 1981, where the Hawaiian surfers wait for and conquer the perfect wave, with a voiceover inspired by Moby Dick. A year later in 2000 came the Cuban snail race ad known as Bet on Black, with more mambo music by Perez Prado.
2001 saw Dreamer, Glazer’s last for Guinness, made in Budapest and featuring a figure who dreams he discovers the meaning of life atop a human pyramid. He also turns into a CGI squirrel along the way, in an ad that used 500 extras and 50 stunt men.
At this point Guinness stopped the campaign. It returned in 2005, but in the meantime they used the ‘Believe’ campaign. This started with an Irish ad in 2002 in which a hurler must take a free-in during the last moments of a match.
This was followed by Moths in 2004, set somewhere in Latin America and made using 6000 hours of work on CGI, and Mustang later that year, directed by Anthony Minghella. Both of these were AMV BBDO ads.
2005 saw the return of the ‘Good Things Come to Those Who Wait’ campaign with Noitulove, which is evolution spelt backwards. Three Guinness drinkers travel all the way back through time to become mudskipper fish, with Sammy Davis Jr. singing ‘The Rhythm of Life’ over the top.
The ads went smaller scale again in 2006 with Man in a Fridge and Hands, before Tipping Point in 2007, the most expensive ever Guinness ad costing £10 million. Filmed in Argentina, it’s essentially a giant game of dominoes using books, cars, flaming tyres until a huge pint of Guinness is revealed.
That was the last of the ‘Good Things Come to Those Who Wait’ ads. Since then we’ve seen curious one-offs like Dot, To Arthur 17:59, and Bring It to Life.
For all the millions spent, what was the return for Guinness? Well, countless awards went to the advertising agencies, with Surfer and Noitulove especially feted. Surfer was voted ‘Greatest Ad of All Time’ by The Sunday Times.
But what did this mean for Guinness sales? Swimblack and Surfer did well. Campaign reported that they helped Guinness to their highest market share ever, doubling their normal growth rates. The Guinness share of the UK beer market jumped from 5 to 5.5 per cent in 1999.
But after Surfer the same rate of success was harder to maintain. Marketing Magazine reported in 2003 that Guinness sales flat-lined between 2001 and 2003, with Bet on Black and Dreamer providing only modest returns and receiving criticism for being a little too obscure. At that time Diageo were reportedly less than pleased with AMV BBDO.
2003 was a poor year for Guinness sales – the last six months saw them drop by 3 per cent, perhaps due to a lack of big advertising that year. At this point the Moth advert of February 2004 gave sales a needed boost, up by 1.3 per cent in the first six months of the year whilst the beer market contracted.
The Guardian cites an overall market share rise of 5.1 per cent by 2004 on the back of the ads. But sales were again flattening out when Guinness returned to the ‘Good Things Come To Those Who Wait’ slogan in 2005.
Noitulove was shown from October 2005 for 12 months or so, as the beer market again contracted. The ad helped Guinness buck the trend again, with a rise of 3.6 per cent in sales and another market share boost in the period they were shown.
The effect of the 2006 Fridge and 2007 Hands ads was limited. The BBC in November 2007 put Guinness sales down over 10 per cent in the last two years. Hence the £10 million thrown into Tipping Point, which upped UK and Irish sales by 6 per cent according to Management Today.
So in financial terms the adverts had some success, though not without some bumps along the way. And the impression remains of fighting against the tide of the market; over the long-term drinkers have moved away from stout, and lately away from beer itself, with the total volume of beer sold in the UK down 20 percent since 2009. Guinness sales since 2008 have dipped by 50 million litres.
Moreover, the epic ads were not without their detractors, and there is an argument to say that the epic ads were counterproductive. As early as 2004 one former marketing director of Guinness was highlighting the separation between the Guinness advertising and Guinness the drink; people loved the ads, but they remained indifferent to the product. ‘So great Guinness advertising did not equal great Guinness sales’, said Julian Spooner.
In 2007 Marketing Magazine ran a piece by Mark Ritson in which he argued that Guinness had gone completely wrong with the big ads, becoming too concerned with industry awards, glamourous locations, and big budgets.
What was missing was any connection with the product, so that by 2007 Guinness reached a point where a pint of Irish stout was sold by images of an Argentinian village playing large-scale dominoes.
Had it all gotten too self-indulgent, when the product was supposed to be the star?