The Blake Project, the brand consultancy behind Branding Strategy Insider, delivers interactive brand education workshops and keynote speeches designed to align marketers on essential concepts in brand management and empower them to release the full potential of the brands they manage.
The moment when a brand crashes and that when it starts to leave the rails are rarely the same.
In the case of Guinness, for example, there is a decade separating the period when the brand began to deviate from its correct path and the spectacular explosion of misplaced excess we witnessed earlier this month, with its 'Tipping point' TV ad.
Guinness began to leave the rails in 1999 with its wildly popular 'Surfer' campaign. It won a slew of awards and helped the brand to win a Clio in 2001 as the global Advertiser of the Year. The advertising prizes have continued, most recently with a European Epica Award in 2005 for 'noitulovE', a campaign in which three men drinking Guinness are transported back through time.
By any measure, Guinness has had a hugely successful decade when it comes to generating short promotional films. But it has also suffered the worst sales slump in its British history. You can take the Diageo line and blame this on the smoking ban and changing tastes, or you can opt for an alternative explanation: the prize-winning ads are ineffective and the main reason that this great brand is struggling.
Somewhere between 1999 and now, Guinness started to believe that marketing a brand was all about creating big advertising. Those of us who lived through the 80s in marketing land remember fondly the era of big advertising. It was about far-flung locations, trendy directors, big statements, engorged budgets brashly promoted as evidence of superiority, and only a superficial appreciation of brand equity.
And that is exactly what Diageo's team has done with the 'Tipping point'activity. We have a super-expensive film director with a penchant for big advertising. We have a far-flung location in northern Argentina at a ridiculous altitude. We have a cast of 1000 local villagers, who have probably never even heard of the brand, playing a gigantic game of dominoes that includes books, tyres and fridges. And we have the biggest advertising budget in Guinness' history – £10m.
The only thing we don't have is any actual connection to the brand, its origins or its consumers. Watching this silly, indulgent 90-second orgy of outdated advertising last week, I wanted to grab the nearest Diageo marketer by the lapels and scream at them: 'It's a stout. From Ireland. A great one. What's with the fictional Argentinian villagers and images of dominoes?'
Paul Cornell, the marketing manager for Guinness, believes his ad is 'a celebration of community'. He continues: 'It shows an entire village coming together to create an awe-inspiring spectacle of toppling objects.' Am I the only marketer who thinks this sounds like total madness? It's a stout. From Ireland.
Guinness has become tragically enraptured with the whole business of advertising. The awards, the glamour, the showreel have all led it to forget its ultimate purpose. Guinness is no longer a great Irish stout. It is a brand famed for its advertising.
Don't believe me? Visit Guinness.com. This is not a website about stout, it is about stout advertising. Visitors are encouraged to 'Celebrate the essence of Guinness stout since 1929 through 75 years of beautiful, inventive advertising'. The interactive game that dominates the site is about the latest ad's Argentine theme.
Somewhere up a hillside in Argentina, Guinness finally lost its way. It forgot that advertising is not the lead tool in any marketing campaign any more. It forgot that big budgets are nothing to boast about. It forgot that authenticity comes from real people and places, not ones made up by creatives. It forgot that, ultimately, it is about the brand and its consumers – not the ads.
30 SECONDS ON … GUINNESS ADVERTISING
- The 'Tipping point' ad was shot in a remote village called Iruya, in the Salta region of northern Argentina.
- The 'Domino effect' was developed by domino-tipping experts Weijers Domino Productions, based in the Netherlands.
- Setting up the dominoes took a team of three experts two days, but took just 14 seconds to topple. Toppling items included: 6000 dominoes, 10,000 books, 400 tyres, 75 mirrors, 50 fridges, 45 wardrobes and six cars.
- The 1994 to 1995 'Anticipation' campaign, featuring actor Joe McKinney dancing to Guaglione by Perez Prado while his pint settled, became a legend in Ireland and the song spent several weeks at number one in the charts.
- In 2000, Guinness' 'Surfer' execution, created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, was named the best TV ad of all time in a UK poll conducted by The Sunday Times and Channel 4.
- In 2003, the stout's ad featuring Tom Crean won the gold Shark Award at the International Advertising Festival of Ireland.
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