Guinness pint

enduring relationships

Raise A Glass To Guinness

AMV BBDO won the Guinness business in 1998. We look at the enduring creative partnership

By Jeremy Lee

When Arthur Guinness brewed his first batch of beer at St James' Gate in Dublin, after inheriting £100 from his godfather, it wasn't a great commercial success.

Having chosen to focus on ale - standard fare for the time - he was entering a crowded market. However, after 40 years, Guinness took a decision that changed global drinking habits, as well as the fortunes of his brewery. The solution he came up with to remedy Guinness' sluggish performance was to focus on porter - a London-brewed darker beer popular among street and river porters - along with a stronger version known as stout. Guinness Original and Guinness Extra Stout were born.

Guinness was quick to export around the globe and by 1858 had reached New Zealand. Moreover, displaying an impressively early understanding of the importance of its brand, in 1794 Guinness ran its first official press ad in the UK captioned: "Health, peace and prosperity".

SH Benson (later to become part of Ogilvy & Mather) introduced the slogan "Guinness is good for you" in 1929 in a bid to arrest flagging sales. In 1969 the account moved to J Walter Thompson, which aimed to separate Guinness from its competitors by highlighting the drink's distinctive dark colour. In the 1980s, the Guinness account briefly moved to Allen, Brady & Marsh before ending up at Ogilvy & Mather, which devised the slogan "Pure genius".

However, it was in 1998 when AMV BBDO picked up the business, that the advertising moved up a gear.

Grainne Wafer, global director, beer, Guinness, Smirnoff and Baileys at Diageo, said: "We started working with AMV 25 years ago with 'Surfer' and I think the longevity of the relationship speaks for itself. Although a lot has changed during this time, our creative vision for Guinness remains the same - to create work that only Guinness could do. We want to push the boundaries of creativity in everything we do, just as we did initially with 'Surfer'."

"The relationship has lasted this long because, despite the inevitable highs and lows of 26 years, there is such a deep shared passion, commitment, and love for Guinness across the board." Michael Pring, chief operating officer of AMV BBDO

Describing Guinness as "a very special brand" is Michael Pring, chief operating officer of AMV BBDO who recognises that the partnership formed by the Diageo-owned brand and his agency is also a special one.

"Collectively we hold ourselves accountable not only to the back catalogue of work but also to the words of Rupert Guinness who, when finally agreeing to allow the product to be advertised for the first time insisted that ‘the advertising must equal the quality of our beer’," explained Pring. "And all the best work starts and ends there – with a distinctive and delicious beer like no other. We never forget that."

Pring continues: "I think the relationship has lasted this long because, despite the inevitable highs and lows of 26 years, there is such a deep shared passion, commitment, and love for Guinness across the board. Cut us and we bleed black."

To mark that success, we take a look at some of the best work to emerge from one of the most successful partnerships of recent times, and which epitomises Guinness' 'Made of More' brand positioning.

1998 - 'Swimblack'

This predecessor to 'Surfer' was the first work AMV produced for Guinness after snatching the account from Ogilvy, and was also directed by Jonathan Glazer. It features an ageing sportsman - an old Italian man who takes part in an annual swimming race from an offshore buoy to his brother's waterfront pub.

1999 - 'Surfer'

We're all familiar with the greatest ad ever made (you can read more about its impact here), so not much more to say about this epic spot - other than sit back and enjoy as tick follows tock.

2005 - 'noitulovE'

Starting with three Guinness-swilling mates in a pub, this ad takes viewers on a reverse journey of evolution back to the dawn of time. In a nod to the opening scene, it concludes with three fish that have developed rudimentary legs, standing at the water's edge, sipping away and exclaiming: "Eurgh."

2006 - 'Hands'

The successor to 'Noitulove' featured a pair of hands performing quirky movements while waiting to be served a pint of the dark stuff. Visitors to could mix and customise their own version of the ad which they could then forward on to friends.

2007 - 'Tipping point'

Billed as the most expensive Guinness ad to date, 'Tipping point' was directed by Nicolai Fugslig, the man behind the camera for Sony Bravia's 'Balls' commercial. It formed part of a £10 million push for the brand.

It features a group of villagers indulging in an impromptu game of dominoes using anything they can find to hand - including cars and mattresses - all leading to the thing they've been waiting for - a giant pint of Guinness. The ad was shot over seven days in Argentina and was in production for a year.

2013 - 'Sapeurs'

The Society of Elegant Persons of the Congo - or Sapeurs - form the cast of this spot. The men, who are hardworking manual labourers during the day transform into sartorial elegance by night.

2014 - 'Shane'

Welsh rugby legend Shane Williams appeared in this ad ahead of the Autumn internationals. Rather than looking at the physical attribute of brute strength normally found in ads featuring rugby, the spot looked to the player's inner qualities like humility, dedication, self-belief, and irrepressible spirit. The campaign celebrates the triumph of these qualities, which have helped the ads’ heroes leave a lasting mark on the game.

2014 - 'Made of black'

This pan-African campaign was made by AMV in conjunction with BBDO offices in Africa, and was the agency’s first work for the brand since winning the African business in October 2013.

It aired on MTV Base Africa during Guinness’ four-hour takeover of the channel and features clips of black performers, as Kanye West’s 'Black Skinhead' plays in the background.

2015 - 'Never Alone'

In the build-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Guinness released two commercials that showcased two players who had both overcome personal challenges.

One of the two spots, 'Never Alone' featured former Welsh captain Gareth Thomas talking about his sexuality to his teammates. Thomas talks about how his greatest fear was never the opposition he faced on the pitch, but public perceptions and reactions to him coming out.

2018 - 'Compton cowboys'

'Compton cowboys' was the follow up to 'Sapeurs' and part of Diageo's 'Made of More' series for the brand. It reveals the true story of real cowboys roaming the streets of central Los Angeles on horses, juxtaposing against gritty Compton natives defying gang violence with tender horse rescues.

2019 - 'The Purse'

For the 2019 Six Nations rugby championship, Guinness shifted its focus from the players to the fans with an ad showing the true story of two Welsh brothers who honour the wishes of their late mother by using their inheritance to follow the Welsh tea,.

David and Gareth Reese travel around Europe, carrying their mum’s Welsh dragon-branded purse as a beer kitty.

2019 - 'Guinness Clear'

Another rugby ad - this time ahead of the Six Nations to encourage rugby fans to swap out a pint of beer for water – or a pint of ‘Guinness Clear’ – so that you’ll “make it a night you’ll remember”.

Later that year, to mark the Rugby World Cup in Japan, Guinness unveiled a spot, 'Liberty Fields', that detailed the trials and tribulations of Japan’s first international female rugby squad.

With no coach, no doctor and virtually no support, the team defied the social conventions of 1989 Tokyo to represent their country at the Women’s World Cup.

2021 - 'Welcome back'

After the worst of the Covid pandemic appeared to be finally easing, Guinness launched its 'Welcome Back' campaign to encourage people to return to pubs.

Set to the song Always on My Mind, it featured the visual motif of a pint of Guinness – black liquid topped with a head of creamy white foam – represented in several clever combinations of everyday sights that generated familiarity and yearning for the iconic beverage.

It followed a £30 million support pledge from Diageo to UK pub and hospitality businesses during 2020 through its Raising the Bar programme. The company claimed it had helped more than 25,000 pubs to date and delivered more than 30,000 PPE kits across the UK.

2023 - 'Singing pints'

In a sign of the changing times and drinking habits, in 2023 Guinness encouraged people to moderate their drinking with a campaign that broke on St Patrick's Day by promoting its non-alcoholic variant Guinness 0.0.

Set to Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler, the film features three pints of 'the black stuff' with faces in the foam that sing the tune during a dramatic sequence.

Looking back on the rich tapestry of work from over the years, Pring says that he finds it hard to choose a favourite.

"I personally love the optimism and humanity in ‘Sapeurs’ and ‘Shane’, the jaw-dropping confidence of ‘Made of Black’, the inclusive positivity of ‘Never Alone’ and the witty playfulness of campaigns like ‘Guinness Clear’ and ‘Singing Pints’."

After 26 years, AMV's relationship with Guinness has produced some of the most famous and distinctive advertising of the era. It has also been a mutually beneficial partnership, defining how the strongest and most enduring creative collaborations can produce the best work.


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