Has Guinness Lost its Way?

October 10, 2012 / Signed/Unsigned

By Alex Reeves

It’s an iconic brand with an illustrious marketing history, but this cloud nonsense is confusing.

“Good things come to those who wait.” Of course they do. It’s a reassuring motto you’ve heard so many times you assume it must be true. But this wisdom wasn’t made famous by being passed down through generations and when people say it they're not quoting some great wordsmith's classic work of literature. The reason it's so popular is that an adman commandeered the phrase trying to sell pints of stout that took an inordinate amount of time to pull.

Incredibly, the slogan’s only been associated with Guinness for 14 years, but by 2008 more than 45 per cent of Britons regularly used the term in their everyday lives. And, while it's old - a paraphrased Biblical phrase - ask people where it's from and most will probably reply "that Guinness ad."

The famous strapline was a neat example of turning a marketing problem into a beloved brand value. It was first used in Jonathan Glazer’s stylish 1998 Swimblack film about an elderly swimmer’s annual race against the 119.5-second pouring of the perfect pint of Guinness. The ad was a triumph, securing AMV BBDO an account with the esteemed brewery that continues to this day.

The iconic Irish drink has a better marketing history than the vast majority of products. It has cherished its brand identity ever since its first print ad in 1928, when the agency S. H. Benson’s bluntly misinformed the world that “Guinness is Good For You” to great effect. Ah, simpler days.

Since then, the hearty drink’s messaging to the public has remained bold, leaving its mark on drinkers with truly classic copywriting. “Guinness for strength.” “It’s Guinness time.” “My goodness, my Guinness.” Even 2009’s “bring it to life” had something to say about the unique Irish beer.

And now joining these famous lines: “Made of more.” It’s a simple, punchy slogan, but what does it mean? Anyone who’s ever ordered a pint of the black stuff can understand the “good things” slogan. This one is more perplexing.

Product: Guinness
Title: Cloud
Production Company: Gorgeous Enterprises
Director: Peter Thwaites
Ad Agency: AMV BBDO
Art Director: Adrian Rossi
Copywriter: Alex Grieve
Agency Producer: Olly Chapman
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Neil Smith
Post Production House: The Mill

It’s hard to interpret, but what the Irish brewers seem to be suggesting here is that it’s the Guinness drinker that’s “made from more” – that drinking Guinness makes you simply better than those who don’t. This might seem a tad arrogant, but it does make sense looking back at their back-catalogue of advertising, which features a host of larger-than-life characters fronting the brand.

In fact, the cloud in this commercial has a lot in common with past stars of Guinness ads. Like the swimmer in Swimblack it’s daring, going beyond expectations; like the dancing man in Richie Smyth’s Anticipation commercial, it’s merry, bringing a smile to faces around the world; and like Rutger Hauer in the bizarre Pure Genius campaign it’s an oddball – a little bit different.

Guinness has marketed itself as weirder than your average beer for years. As Tim Hayward once put it in the Guardian, “they've worked very hard to help Guinness drinkers picture themselves as twinkly-eyed, Byronic bar-room intellectuals, sitting quietly with a pint and dreaming of poetry and impossibly lovely redheads running barefoot across the peat. You have a pint or two of Guinness with a slim volume of Yeats, not eight mates and a 19 pint bender which ends in tattoos, A&E and herpes from a hen party.” Perhaps this poetic bent explains the wandering, lonely cloud.

Watch a typical beer ad and then look at any Guinness ad. The latter is bound to be more eccentric and whimsical and so it’s far more likely to stick in your mind. This commercial is clearly aware of this tradition. The idea of a cloud embodying Guinness’ ideals might be odd, but it’s a better protagonist than the usual self-satisfied male model that beer ads tend to favour.

As perplexing as the idea might be, the standard of craft is as high as ever. One great thing about the cloud’s adventure through a glimmering modern city is that it can deliver the sort of cinematic spectacle we’ve come to expect from Guinness ads. It’s expertly shot among the skyscrapers, with impressive visual effects bringing some magic to the film.

It’s a very pretty commercial telling an inspirational story about a little cloud with big aspirations and a kind spirit. But it’s more like a bedtime story than a booze ad, leaving you wondering exactly who the target audience is here. Isn’t Guinness for grown-ups?

Without that appetising end shot of a deep, churning pint, this could have been a commercial for almost anything. Its values are about living life to the full, seizing opportunities that come your way and helping others. How many hundreds of brands would be happy to subscribe to those messages? And with Brian Cox’s reassuring tones narrating, it would have made a great ad for home insurance or an ice-cap-saving eco car. It’s a noble concept, but too insipid for a brand with such a vibrant marketing history.

Guinness have spent decades raising the bar (as well as propping it up), so when a new commercial for the black stuff hits our screens we have big expectations. We compare it to the poeticism of films like 1999’s Surfer or the epic humour of 2006’s noitulovE.

It doesn’t stand up to these titans, but Cloud is not a bad ad. For many clients this would have been an acceptable, even impressive, commercial. It’s artful, stylish and finely crafted, but it’s got a hell of an act to follow and this story about the little cloud that could isn’t up to par. This film is standing on the shoulders of giants. It's a good job it's not looking down.

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