Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Saturday, July 19, 2008


In 1996 Guinness initiated a new advertising campaign for its famous stout beer. With a history dating back to 18th-century Ireland, the brand had a venerable image. Not only was the black-colored beer the bestselling stout in the United Kingdom and Ireland but it was also exported to 150 different countries. Abroad, Guinness was able to capitalize on its association with all things Irish to drive sales. But at home in the British Isles, Guinness found that newer Irish stout beers such as Bass and Murphy’s were threatening to encroach on Guinness’s domination of the declining stout category. Most importantly, Guinness had not captured the younger generation of 18 to 34 year olds. For the most part these younger drinkers considered the dark brew to be more their parents’ beer of choice than their own. The ‘‘Not Everything in Black and White Makes Sense’’ campaign was conceived to reposition the Guinness brand to appeal to younger drinkers. The surrealistic-style commercials created by advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather attempted to make people reconsider Guinness. The campaign set out to do so in two ways. Not only were the commercials creative, humorous, and eye-catching but they also presented implausible situations that encouraged viewers to form their own opinions—about the spots and about Guinness itself. The intent was to enable viewers to drop their preconceptions about Guinness, including common notions that the beer was too bitter, fattening, or not chic enough. ‘‘We decided we had to more or less revamp the brand and everything it stood for—re-invent it as it had re-invented itself many times already, and reconnect it to the new Ireland,’’ Guinness marketing director Tim Kelly told the Sunday Business Post.
The launch spots of the campaign—‘‘Bicycle’’ and ‘‘Old Man’’—were both directed by Tony Kaye and encouraged viewers to take a new look at Guinness. ‘‘Bicycle,’’ which was filmed in a style reminiscent of 1940s movies, depicts a world without men. Against a backdrop of the song ‘‘I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,’’ the commercial portrays women in jobs traditionally held by blue-collar men. After these women drink beer, arm wrestle, and shoot pool, the commercial moves to a scene of a starkly empty maternity ward. Gloria Steinem’s famous quote, ‘‘A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,’’ flashes on the screen. What follows is the image of a fish riding a bicycle and the campaign’s tag line, ‘‘Not everything in black and white makes sense.’’ ‘‘Old Man’’ similarly set out to shock the viewer with its surprising ending. The commercial sets out with the sad scene of an old man dressing alone in his apartment. Singer Pete Townshend’s quote appears on screen: ‘‘I hope I die before I grow old.’’ It turns out, though, that the old man is donning his formal wear to marry a heavily pregnant buxom blonde.
While Guinness’s sales rose over the life of the campaign, the company was not entirely pleased with Ogilvy & Mather’s efforts. Two spots in particular sparked firestorms of controversy, which were not the sort of notoriety Guinness was hoping to achieve with its advertising. One, involving sadomasochistic practices, was decried as a reference to the death by hanging of a conservative member of Parliament that was rumored to have had sexual undertones. The other, which never actually ran, featured two gay men enjoying a tranquil breakfast. Tabloid newspapers, which got wind of the proposed commercial, chastised Guinness for condoning homosexual behavior. When the company responded by denying that it ever intended to do so and that it never would in the future, the gay community was outraged. Ultimately, Guinness fired Ogilvy & Mather and shifted its advertising business to Abbott Mead Vickers. That agency’s first campaign for the stout giant featured more traditional advertising focusing on the quality of the beer.

Guinness beer was founded under near-mythic circumstances in 1759, when Arthur Guinness took over an abandoned brewery at St. James Gate in Dublin, Ireland, and began producing a dark beer called porter. In later years the company named one of its strongest brews Guinness Extra Stout Porter. The porter appellation was in time dropped, and thus the stout category of beer was born. Guinness’s distinctive black color derived from the fact that some of the barley used in the production was roasted, rather like coffee beans. The darkness of the beer contrasted with the ‘‘blonde’’ foam that resulted from the beer being poured or ‘‘pulled’’ from the tap. The company also had a venerable history of advertising. Beginning in the 1930s the SH Benson ad agency coined the slogan ‘‘Guinness is good for you.’’ At the same time the ‘‘My Goodness, My Guinness’’ poster ads, which featured a balding zookeeper whose Guinness was perpetually stolen by larcenous animals, received critical and popular acclaim. Even as early as the 1930s, however, the company used advertising to reposition the brand. The Guardian newspaper has explained that, for example, the ‘‘Guinness for Strength’’ campaign of that decade, which portrayed an archetypal workman in the midst of his labor, was designed to give the beer ‘‘a more masculine, macho image.’’ Nearly 40 years later the company sought to again reposition itself. In order to appeal to women and to soften the brand’s primary association with working-class men, Guinness designed glossy, stylish ads that appeared in British fashion magazines.
In the 1980s Guinness again shifted its image through its advertising campaign. The seven commercials of the ‘‘Guinnless’’ campaign targeted 24- to 34-year-old men by depicting humorous scenarios of Guinness drinkers who were deprived of their coveted brew. In the late 1980s Guinness signed on with ad agency Ogilvy & Mather and released the ‘‘Man with the Guinness’’ campaign, which once more deliberately tried to reposition the brand—this time ‘‘as a drink for strong, confident individuals,’’ according to The Guardian. Yet by the mid-1990s the cultural world of which Guinness was a part had again shifted. Not only had other Irish stout beers entered the market with their own distinctive advertising campaigns, but stout beers as a whole were losing British drinkers. Guinness became convinced that viewers had become too comfortable with the overwhelmingly popular seven-year ‘‘Man with the Guinness’’ campaign. To reinvigorate its marketing, the company went back to the drawing board with Ogilvy & Mather and nearly two years later released the first two ‘‘Black and White’’ commercials.

The target of Guinness’s new campaign revealed once more a strategic repositioning of the brand. As of 1996 the stout sector of the beer market was in decline. Although 79 percent of British drinkers over the age of 55 drank stout, only 35 percent of young adults consumed it. Thus, while Guinness held more than 80 percent of the draught stout market, the company’s growth could not be fueled by gaining more within the segment. Instead Guinness had to focus on winning over younger drinkers to its distinctive stout beer. As a result, the brewing titan targeted its new campaign to 18- to 34-year old males. ‘‘Guinness need[ed] . . . consumers to rethink their choice of beers,’’ reported Advertising Age International. The goal, in short, was to appeal to the target market to ‘‘rethink stubbornness when making up one’s mind.’’
In order to reach out to its target, the campaign sought to reflect the values of young adults in the 1990s. In an era dominated by postmodern philosophy that posited the ultimate relativity of all things including truth, the campaign resonated perfectly with the abundant insecurity and introspection of the times. ‘‘Research shows people today are more inwardly focused,’’ said the Independent-London. ‘‘The current message is: think again about life, your inner self, Guinness. All is not how it appears at first glance.’’ Each of the commercials opened with a statement that appeared to be categorical, but as the commercial progressed the assertion became more tenuous and open to debate.
Moreover, the look of the campaign was crafted to reach out to its target audience. It was stylish enough to appeal to a segment of the population that was raised with television and advertising. And it did not resort to the exclusivity that was the hallmark of other beer advertising. ‘‘Bicycle’’ was decidedly non-sexist and attempted to challenge the viewer with issues of gender. Ogilvy & Mather even produced a commercial that featured two gay men together at the breakfast table engaging in a decidedly normal kiss. The spot was leaked to tabloid newspapers before its release, however, and in the ensuing ruckus Guinness chose not to release the commercial.

While other stout beer producers were not challenging social mores in quite the same way, Guinness did begin to feel pressure from stout brands that challenged Guinness’s hegemony. Irish brands, including Murphy’s Irish Stout, Caffrey’s, Beamish, and Bass Ale, were expanding their market share at Guinness’s expense. Many of these brands laid claim to an Irish heritage through their advertising. These Gaelic ties were significant because, as the largest minority group in Britain, the Irish wielded considerable spending power. More importantly, however, was the fact that both in Britain and abroad (especially in the United States), the love of Irish culture had exploded in the 1990s to the point that all things of Ireland were trendy. Murphy’s sought to capitalize on this dynamic with the ‘‘Vincent Murphy’’ campaign. In one spot the quintessentially Irish Vincent Murphy sips his beer while he observes a ranting old man at the pub. As the man complains, Murphy quips, ‘‘Unlike the Murphy’s, he’s very bitter.’’ This underhanded dig at Guinness’s supposed bitter taste also subtly conveyed Murphy’s ‘‘genuine’’ Irish heritage. Caffrey’s ads, on the other hand, focused on the ‘‘New Ireland.’’ ‘‘There’s warmth and lyricism mixed with cosmopolitan and contemporary appeal,’’ a spokesperson for the company told the Independent-London. Beamish trumpeted its status as the ‘‘only brand that brews only in Ireland.’’
According to The Guardian, the ‘‘Black and White’’ campaign served to reassert ‘‘Guinness’s superiority in a marketplace that had suddenly become saturated with Irish stouts.’’ On the one hand, the explicit premise of the campaign—that not everything was as it appeared or claimed to be—addressed Guinness’s rival’s claims of cultural integrity as well as the competitors’ snipes at Guinness itself. The campaign also sought to reflect Guinness’s clout in the market. Controlling nearly 80 percent of the stout sector and 4.4 percent of total beer consumption in Great Britain, Guinness was, without question, the dominant beer in its category. The creativity and quality of the ‘‘Black and White’’ commercials sought to highlight the status of the beer itself.

As the definitive leader in its category, Guinness could not count on converting drinkers of rival stout brands as a means of continuing to expanding the brand. Instead, it had to win the loyalty of those who did not drink stout beer or had never tasted the black ale. In short, the campaign had to convince consumers to reevaluate their choice of beers. According to the Sunday Business Post, the goal of the ‘‘Black and White’’ campaign ‘‘was three-fold: to bring non-draught Guinness drinkers into the brand, to make Guinness a regular choice for occasional drinkers, and to dissuade regular drinkers from switching to competitive stouts.’’ Part of this agenda involved ‘‘updating’’ the brand’s image among younger British consumers. The campaign set out to accomplish this goal through daring commercials that clearly reached beyond Guinness’s solid, middle-age base. One of the more infamous spots of the ‘‘Black and White’’ campaign portrayed a sadomasochistic man hanging by chains from the ceiling (in a leather straightjacket) beneath a picture of British Prime Minister John Major. Other commercials in the campaign displayed similar moxie. A series of print ads featuring a satanic priest and an overweight nudist appealed to a more youthful audience. The company not only used mainstream publications to display the campaign’s ads but also selected smaller magazines that directly reached the campaign’s target. The sadomasochistic ad, for instance, ran solely in FHM, a publication with a circulation of only about 500,000 readers, most of whom, however, were young men drawn to the magazine’s glossy coverage of ‘‘fashion, football, and women,’’ according to the London Sunday Telegraph.
Guinness strove to reposition itself outside the realm of television and print also. The company sponsored the Cheltenham festival in Britain as well as the Fleadh Irish Music Festival in New York. By aligning the brand with international rock stars such as Sinead O’Connor, Van Morrison, and Shane MacGowan, Guinness sought to increase its allure with a younger and more cosmopolitan segment of the British population.

The Guinness ‘‘Black and White’’ campaign was deemed a success from the outset. According to the company’s marketing department, the brand achieved its highestever share of the beer market—5.2 percent—after the campaign broke. The November 1997 Adwatch survey revealed a 56 percent recall among consumers across socioeconomic and gender lines. The survey also emphasized that the commercials performed especially well among the target audience. The campaign garnered industry accolades as well. Bob Garfield acknowledged the spots in Advertising Age International. In March 1998, however, Guinness indicated in a bold fashion that it was not entirely pleased with the high-profile ‘‘Black and White’’ campaign when it left Ogilvy & Mather and placed its advertising account with Abbott Mead Vickers instead. Officially the company stated to the Times of London that ‘‘part of the Guinness ethos has always been to move on before we have to’’ and that ‘‘Ogilvy & Mather’s work cannot be delivered any further.’’ Yet the rift between Guinness and Ogilvy & Mather ran deeper. The spot featuring the two gay men (which never ran) unleashed a storm of protest from conservative viewers and shareholders. After Guinness furiously backpedaled in response, claiming that ‘‘at no time, did we set out to make a so-called ‘gay’ ad, nor will we be screening one,’’ the gay community became outraged. Later the spot picturing the hanging sadomasochistic man drew another round of criticism, especially from Tory politicians who insisted the ad was a reference to the death by hanging of Tory Member of Parliament Stephen Milligan.
Furthermore, Guinness hinted that the ‘‘Black and White’’ campaign was ‘‘elitist’’ and inaccessible to younger consumers. Analysts speculated that the commercials had not touted the brand’s essential ‘‘Irishness’’ enough or that they had cultivated too serious an image for the beer. Guinness followed ‘‘Black and White’’ with Abbot Mead Vickers’s ‘‘Good Things Come to Those Who Wait.’’ These new commercials were decidedly non-surreal and lacked the ‘‘artistic’’ feel of the grainy ‘‘Black and White’’ spots. One spot portrays an elderly swimmer attempting to cross the village bay before his pint of Guinness, poured by his bartender brother, has settled. The old-fashioned style of the commercial contrasted with ‘‘Black and White’s’’ postmodern style.

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