The Greatest Guinness Adverts

It’s estimated that more than 13 million pints of Guinness, over five million in the UK alone, will be consumed on St Patrick's Day on the 17th March and when the booze-fuelled revelry spills into the following weekend. So in honour of the ‘black stuff’ we have assembled the definitive list of Guinness’ greatest advert campaigns.

Brewed by Arthur Guinness since 1759, the company’s first official press advertisement was published in 1794, and they have since established themselves as one of the preeminent icons of great branding. From their 1981 slogan “Guinness is good for you", to the latest “Made With More” that celebrates the sartorially immaculate Congolese Sapeurs, the brewery is the standard-bearer for beer advertising. Here we run the rule on our favourite Guinness adverts of all-time…
'Swimblack' 1998
Establishing a thematic tone that has since become synonymous with their adverts, Swimblack was the first to feature their iconic tagline “Good things come to those who wait” and is a beautifully executed play on the length of time it takes to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. Shot in the remote Italian village of Monopoli using local villagers, the ad celebrates an elderly Italian former swimming champion who still swims against the clock; albeit one manipulated by his enraptured audience whose collective white lie preserves the greater ideals of pride, historical reverence and community.

Created by advertising agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, who usurped the Guinness account from Ogilvy & Mather in January 1998, Swimblack was directed by Jonathan Glazer, who would gone on to direct the critically-lauded Sexy Beast and more recently Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson. Before breaking Hollywood, the London born filmmaker was one of the most sought-after talents in the industry having found fame for his revolutionary work on Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit’ and Jamiroquai’s stunning ‘Virtual Insanity’ music video. 

The famous strapline and subsequent advertisement turned Guinness’ perceived marketing problem into a beloved brand value, and ushered in a hugely successful period in their illustrious marketing history.
'Surfer' 1998
“He waits. That’s what he does. And I’ll tell you what; tick followed tock followed tick followed tock followed tick…” Voted the greatest advert of all time by Sunday Times readers and Channel 4 viewers, Surfer remains the benchmark by which every Guinness advert is measured. The metaphor heavy, minute-long tome to deferred gratification was filmed in Hawaii over nine days, once again by Jonathan Glazer, and flipped the dated perception that stout was an old man’s drink right on its head. Achingly cool the narrative structure, music and visual effects (the same digital technology was used on James Cameron’s Titanic) married together at a cost in excess of £6 million, was way ahead of its time.

The original concept called for the soundtrack to use a 1963 radio broadcast of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, narrated by Hollywood heavyweight Richard Burton and set to an instrumental soundtrack by British electronica band, Leftfield. This idea later evolved into an amalgamation of prose inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. According to various reports, the eventual transcript was read by a drinking partner of Glazer’s called Louie. The galloping white horses and brooding dark waters, so symbolic of Guinness’ dark stout and foaming white head, had an astonishing impact on the advertising industry. Longer, more expensive to produce and more artistically aspirational, the poeticism of Surfer transcended its target audience to set the standard by which adverts and advertising agencies would be measured.
'Bet on Black' 1999
A fleeting hiatus from the creative mind of Glazer, ‘Bet on Black’, was the vision of director Frank Budgen (Gorgeous Enterprises), Dave Throssall (The Mill) and copywriter Tom Carty, who had also been instrumental in the Surfer and Swimblack campaigns. The enigmatic, mythical iconography of previous campaigns was palpably evident; the continued theme of deferred gratification laboured during a whimsical Guinness-powered snail race, demonstrating that speed isn’t everything. Shot just outside Havana in Cuba, the film used a mixture of real snails and CGI to mirror the humid, gambling fuelled, testosterone soaked atmosphere of a Caribbean cockfight. A light-hearted play on the Palio di Siena, the superb production and exhilarating soundtrack from iconic Cuban artist Beny More featuring the King of the Mambo, the late Pérez Prado, completed the viscerally rewarding 60 second ad. It won the Silver Lion at the annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, and won silver at the British Television Advertising Awards. 
'Dreamer' 2001
Reuniting the team behind Surfer and Swimblack, Dreamer or "Dream Club" took a further detour into the surreal with visions of a stout-drinking squirrel and a giant curtain revealing the meaning of life. Returning to the trademark black and white filmography of Surfer, Dreamer was a vast production filmed in sub-zero temperatures in Budapest, using fifty stuntmen and five hundred extras, all at a cost of £6million. There is a competitive masculine edge to the narrative of dream fulfilment, with the fictional, beatnik-like club of elite dreamers dreaming up the meaning of life in an atmospheric haze of rushing crowds, dancing dogs and upturned horses. Astonishingly realistic and laden with metaphor, the fourth instalment of the “Good things come to those who wait,” campaign would also be Glazer’s last at the helm.
‘Noitulove’ 2006
Called "Noitulove” or evolution backwards, the AMV-BBDO produced commercial was tangibly the brewer’s most successful one to date, assisting Guinness in achieving their highest-ever sales during a period of general decline in the market. Guinness returned to their “Good things comes to those who wait” slogan after a relatively lean period experimenting with various taglines including "Believe" (Free and Tom Crean) and "A story of darkness and light" (Moth and Mustang, which coincidentally was directed by Anthony Minghella, the late director of 'The English Patient' amongst others). It was suggested that the original slogan didn’t translate well in other countries, hence the move, but "Noitulove" readopted it and subsequently repositioned Guinness as the ultimate evolution of stout drinking.

AMV-BBDO approached Daniel Kleinman to direct the film following his masterful work on a host of opening sequences for the James Bond franchise. Like his predecessor Glazer, he made his name directing music videos for the likes of Madonna and Fleetwood Mac, and having directed Gladys Knight's title song for Licence to Kill in 1989, he was chosen as the replacement for regular Bond title designer Maurice Binder. Beginning with Golden Eye, he worked on all of the Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan and he recently returned for Sam Mendes’ Skyfall. Principal photography for the advert took place in Iceland where time-lapse photographs of mud pots, volcanic terrain and frozen lakes were taken to form the basis of the advert before VFX supervisor William Bartlett, known for his visual effects work on the BBC television documentary Walking with Dinosaurs, brought the feature to life.

Accompanied by Sammy Davis, Jr.'s 1969 rendition of "The Rhythm of Life" and certainly less abstract than the Glazer led vehicles, the accessible narrative and relative light-heartedness struck a chord with consumers and industry insiders alike; the advert scooped more than 30 industry awards which made it the most-acclaimed commercial of 2006.
‘Tipping Point’ 2007
Directed by Nicolai Fuglsig, the creative genius behind the extraordinary Sony Bravia "Balls" ad, Tipping Point remains the most expensive Guinness commercial ever made and a world away from the effects-heavy style of Jonathan Glazer. Filmed on location in a remote village called Iruya in the Salta region of northern Argentina, over 6,000 dominoes, 10,000 books, 400 tyres, 75 mirrors, 50 fridges, 45 wardrobes and six cars were used in the advert that cost £10 million to make. It took three experts two days to assemble the hugely memorable and evocative tipping scenes, even though the advert contains just 14 seconds of domino footage. The gruelling shoot was at high altitude using local villagers with absolutely no experience of acting or filmmaking.

The wonderfully constructed 90 second film echoed Honda's ground-breaking "Cog" ad from 2003, which featured a similar domino effect involving 85 car parts that took more than 600 takes to achieve. Like the aforementioned, the Guinness campaign used no special effects and although some critics were quick to pounce on the lack of association between the material and the drink itself, the sheer scale and ambition of the commercial resulted in an unforgettable visual spectacle.
‘World’ 2009
A stunningly elaborate metaphor for the famous surge and settle motion of a pint of Guinness, World dropped the brand’s famous “Good things come to those who wait” slogan in favour of “Bring it to life”.

More than 8,000km of land was scouted before finally settling on locations including New Zealand, Canada, Fiji and the UK. The production crew for ‘World’ included the Oscar winning set designer from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Grant Major, and the Oscar nominated director of photography was the long-time Christopher Nolan collaborator Wally Pfister, who worked on the Batman franchise and Inception. The remarkable set for the underwater scene took three months to construct and the shot where grass is dragged into place was filmed on a disused bombing range, with assistance from the army. It allegedly took 45 people six days to hand-stitch the artificial grass, as director Johnny Green wove a beautifully visceral, energetic and poetic tapestry together to produce a wonderfully evocative commercial.

In addition to the innovative creative, during the campaign’s run Guinness also collaborated with Google Earth to create an online world that invited users to bring it to life by creating their own terrain.
‘Friendship’ 2013

Forming part of Guinness' "Made of More" campaign, which endeavoured to showcase ordinary people from around the world who are inspirational, Friendship was arguably the boldest advert of their ever impressive portfolio. Aligning a pint of Guinness with a brand of masculinity rarely depicted within the testosterone fuelled world of beer advertising, the advert challenged the common industry stereotype of booze-swigging men in an enlightening and emotive fashion. While it was criticised in some quarters for being patronising and cynically manipulative, it was in the main championed for creating an emotionally engaging and heart-warming commercial that was both respectful and unobtrusive from a brand perspective. The director of 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), Noam Murro, was at the helm and the uplifting music comes courtesy of The Cinematic Orchestra's 2007 track "To Build a Home."
‘Clock’ 2013
A follow up to “Cloud” within the "Made of More" campaign, Clock returned to the black and white Halcyon days of Surfer and once again featured the thumping of a ticking clock, this time one that had the capacity to influence the passing of time. Made in the beautifully quaint town of Český Krumlov, in South Bohemia of the Czech Republic and set in the 1890s, the ad charts the story of a town’s mythical clock that changes time to enhance the well-being of a community; speeding up during times of monotony and slowing down to “make precious moments less momentary.” The film ends by merging the clock's face into the top of a pint of Guinness, and like Cloud tried to push the 'Made of More' brand positioning that encourages consumers to never settle for the ordinary.
Directed by Peter Thwaites of Gorgeous, VFX company and perpetual Guinness collaborators The Mill managed to make the inanimate object a fully-fledged character of the minute long ad.
'Merci' 2014
Slightly off the beaten track but no less impactful, Guinness released a series of emotive adverts ahead of the 2014 Autumn Rugby Internationals, involving the game's luminaries like Shane Williams, Bill McLaren, the revered Munster team of 1978 and the much-beloved England World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson. The latter short film was apparently unscripted and cleverly flipped Anglo-French relations on its head by interviewing a host of Toulon fans about their heroic Fly-Half. The clip highlights the humility and determination of Wilkinson and how his dedication, attitude and personality influenced not just his Heineken Cup winning team, but also the entire city in southern France. Rather than shine a light on the physical and technical attributes of one of the greatest rugby players of all time, Guinness highlight the more attainable, human virtues that anyone of us can harness. 
Any glaring omissions? Have we overlooked any of Guinness’ other innovative adverts? Share your thoughts in the comments section below by registering with CellarVie Wines today

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Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 


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