Over the last few weeks I have covered various aspects of alcohol marketing and branding, from failed launches to those who have a very good track record in getting it right.  One of the latter is Guinness who’s reputation for eye catching adverts over the last 30 years is second to none, unlike the beer which is surpassed by many stouts from smaller brewers.  You knew an advert from them straight away, even though most slots didn’t show the product for the vast majority of the 30 second slot.

However the recent attempts have really missed the mark.   The “Paint it Black” campaign to celebrate “Arthurs Day” left you underwhelmed, but made logical sense from the word play involved.  The production values were high as usual, but the actual creative elements of the advert fell flat. The subsequent “cloud” campaign is instantly forgettable, even before the advert finishes.  It could be used for a mobile phone network with a few small edits.

In a wholly unscientific experiment, I asked my wife what she thought the advert was for when it appeared on TV, her first guess was for a bank or insurance company, both perfectly viable guesses given the vague content.  When I said it was for a beer, she guessed the brand first time however, not a surprise given most brewers like to feature their brand as much as possible, Guinness being the exception.

They have done many campaigns which have had nothing to do with the beer itself, but touch on the values they are trying to convey on the brand, but this one doesn’t even make sense, the tag line is “Made of more”.

Made of more what? is the question you are left asking, certainly not ingredients for an interesting flavour, both the regular and extra cold variations are bland and probably only merit drinking in a poorly stocked airport bar while waiting for departure.  Millions of drinkers worldwide disagree with me however, but I’m sure if you gave them a stout from Summer Wine, Dark Star, Kernel, or Thornbridge, people would realise that there are far better beers in that style.  Even the supermarket sourced stouts from William Bros and Glencoe are a different league.

The concept of “Arthurs Day” is also flawed, originally a promotion in 2009 to celebrate 250 years of the beer being brewed, they are now trying to make this a yearly celebration, a St Patricks Day “lite”.  The date of the event jumps around year to year, with the core of the event being a series of concerts in various locations, along with irish bands at participating venues.  Just as the cloud advert is to the product itself, this continuation of what should be a day which should be celebrated every 25 years at most, seems disjointed almost tenuous in relation to the original meaning of the day.  It is merely now just an device to get the brand name in the trade press, national media and on point of sale both inside and outside of the pubs.

I asked a publican I know how much of their trade the beer makes up.  The venue, a local well known ale house will typically sell 5 pints of their house session ale for every pint of Guinness sold, when a guest stout or porter is served on the bar, they can typically sell at least 1.5 – 2 pints of the beer for every pint of Guinness sold.  The pub has 8 handpumps, so even if they sell only 3 x 9 gallon barrels on each pump per week on average, the mainstream stout represents about 1 in 30 (at most) of the beers served, or 3%.  When you take into account sales of bottles, mainstream keg beers and the german lagers, this share will be diluted down to below 2%, almost insignificant.

Of course these figures can be affected by weekly trading patterns and the customers tastes for that week.  But the fact that the pump for the Irish beer is partially hidden behind the charity shop shows its relative importance.  In more mainstream pubs, the percentage of the total beer sales Guinness represents will be higher, but with pubs now offering more options and the more discerning palate of the general public, they have to fight for every drinker and really need to raise their game.

If the beer which still takes over 30% of beer sales in Ireland disappeared from our shores tomorrow, I would not mourn the loss at all, many would however.  The taste of the drink will never inspire people to try the beer, and the current advertising is not either.  The first will never change, the second must.