They Say Guinness, We Say Genius: St James’ Gate Marketing Strategies

They Say Guinness, We Say Genius: St James’ Gate Marketing Strategies

If we step back in time to 1759 into the heart of Dublin City, we can call upon the story of a young man who went by the name of Arthur Guinness. Aged 34, Arthur took out a 9,000-year lease on St James’ Gate Brewery, which, 260 years later, is known as the ‘home of the black stuff’.

Arthur didn’t just create a name for himself, he created an empire within the world of the alcoholic beverage, with his stout famous the world over thanks to its distinctive taste — it was like nothing that have been produced before, and still to this day, the beer synonymous with Irish culture is mightily unique.

The Guinness brand stayed within the Guinness family up until 1986, being passed down from generation to generation. Regardless of what happened to the blend itself, or the management in charge, one thing that never changed at St James’ Gate, alongside the daily parade of thoroughbred horses, was the witty, eye-catching marketing strategies.

Guinness, drunk aplenty during annual celebrations such as St Patrick’s and Arthur Guinness Day (which we’ll touch upon later), doesn’t particularly need advertising — many have suggested it is the world’s most recognisable beer. On the patron saint of Ireland’s day alone, 13 million pints of Guinness are sold worldwide, while an average year will see 1.8 billion pints shifted.

That said, the strategies employed by the drinks company in the past have been nothing short of show stopping.

In the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Irish hearts were broken by the formidable All Blacks. New Zealand, who had suffered defeat at the hands of the men in green in their previous two encounters, including a first loss on Irish soil, ensured that departing coach and captain, Joe Schmidt and Rory Best, weren’t going to have the leaving party they ultimately deserved.

46-14 was the final score in Tokyo and what was described as Ireland’s golden generation walked away from another world cup trophyless. Fortunately, Guinness didn’t take long to shine some humour on the situation.

Shortly after the final whistle, the social media team at Guinness tweeted: “Have a pint of Carlsberg. We’re officially done with the colour black today.”

Responses to the tweet included: “This is just epic Irishness at its best”, and “Give this person a raise”.

In this article, we take you right back to the roots of the hops, where the advertising began, and where Guinness and their team of clever marketers helped turn a humble 568ml stout into a way of life.

The very first

In 1794, Guinness released its first official advertisement, published in the UK by Gentleman’s Magazine. One of the connotations which has become synonymous with the beer is an elderly man sat propped up at the end of the bar, sipping from his pint while offering his best wishes.

Perhaps it was foresight, understanding just how well Guinness was going to be received for centuries to come. Or, maybe it was simply punting in the dark. Nevertheless, the ad worked wonders.

An image depicting a well-dressed man sat in front of a barrel of Guinness Porter was hand sketched, accompanied by the caption, ‘health, peace and prosperity’. In Irish Gaelic, the phrase ‘saol fada chugat’ can roughly be translated to suggest ‘long life to you’, and now in its 260th year, continually excelling, it looks like Guinness has established everlasting life.

A Guinness a Day

If you’re of Irish origin you will be sure to know the nutritional benefits of a pint of Guinness.

Many expect the contents of a Guinness glass to be extremely high in calories. In fact, for such a dense beer, it’s fairly low — perfect for those tracking their macros.

Back in the day however, it became popular around the globe that Guinness ranked highly in regard to health benefits. All of this came off the back of their 1929 ad stating, ‘Guinness is Good for You’.

For most of the 1900s, doctors believed that the St James’ Gate brew was full of medicinal properties. So much so, it was given to Irish mothers directly after childbirth, to help replenish their iron levels.

Is Guinness Good for You?

As we meandered towards the end of the 20th century, advertising laws, regarding such claims as proposing that alcohol was good for you, became considerably more stringent.

Guinness weren’t going to roll over, though. They knew they needed a revamp. They knew they needed one that would knock it out of the metaphorical park, and in ‘Guinness isn’t good for you’ alongside an empty pint glass, they found just that.

Not only did their play on the previous campaign, some 55 years later, help to propel them back into the limelight, boosting awareness by 87 per cent, it similarly got picked up by a vicar.

Outdoor signs were used by a man of the cloth in London, to project the message ‘godliness isn’t good for you’.

A Day for Celebration

Obviously, St Patrick’s Day exists as the most popular day globally for indulging in a Guinness. However, in 2009, the brand chose to create their own holiday, in honour of their founder, Sir Arthur.

On September 22nd at 17:59 revelers across the world raise a toast, “To Arthur”, once again, thanks to the marketing campaign.

The ad, which starts with two Irish men sat in a bar raising a glass, saying, “to Arthur Guinness, for 250 years”, slowly makes its way around Dublin’s Temple Bar area, slowly becoming misconstrued as each person shouts what is known as, sláinte!

‘Arthur’ becomes confused with ‘Martha’, ‘parsnips’, and ‘llamas’, as the cheers continues across Chile, Brazil, and Shanghai.

In the end, it all comes back to Guinness, and the ad concludes with, “join the worldwide celebration of a man named Arthur, and a beer named Guinness”.

A Woman Needs a Man…

Undoubtedly one of the best, yet incredibly obscure marketing strategies to ever be created. Tony Kaye, who developed a reputation for creating some of the most controversial commercials ever, assumed the task.

Taking the popular feminist phrase, “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, the commercial captured women carrying out day to day roles that were traditionally associated with masculinity.

Drilling roads, driving lorries, and mining are all tasks included in the commercial, and everything is going swimmingly, pardon the pun, until the camera cuts to an empty maternity ward and the line ‘not everything in black and white makes sense’ rolls across the screen.

The most impressive aspect of all of Guinness’ marketing campaigns is the fact that each and every one of them has touched someone in one way or another.

One past time which has an incredibly intertwined relationship with Guinness is rugby. Although an Irish brand, Guinness supports the sport as a whole. In doing so, it has used the power of its advertising to help ex-Wales captain, Gareth Thomas, tell the story of his fear on the pitch, due to his sexuality.

We have seen some truly fantastic pieces of marketing from Guinness in the past, and we are more than confident the next 260 years has far more in store.


Post by Gary Peeling

Gary Peeling is CEO at Where The Trade Buys, one such company who is placing an emphasis on becoming an industry leader within sustainable printing. The commercial print business has significantly invested in becoming an FSC partner, helping talking care of forests and the people who live in them. The company is a specialist in outdoor banner printing services, with bases in London, Sunderland and Surrey.


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