World's most creative partnerships: Guinness and AMV BBDO

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Guinness and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO have one of the most inspirational brand-agency partnerships. What's their secret?

To commemorate the 2016 Cannes Lions, Campaign is taking a look at the world's most vital creative partnerships between chief marketing officers and chief creative officers. Check back all week for more entries.

Take a look at any list of all-time top ads and chances are that Guinness executions will figure prominently. There’s that ad, of course. You know the one: rolling waves, foam, horses. (We don’t really need to use the "S" word, do we?) Then there are rugby players facing their demons; sharply dressed blue-collar workers from the Congo; prehistoric amphibians evolving over millions of years into fully fledged Guinness drinkers (good things really do come to those who wait); even sheepdogs.

"Surfer," released in 1999, is regularly named among the world’s best ads.

"Surfers" (there, we said it); "Sapeurs"; fullbacks; primitive pond life and more are all examples of Guinness and AMV BBDO’s constant brand reinvention, making this one of the great commercial-meets-creative partnerships. 

That legacy is certainly daunting, with a near-100-year history of advertising innovation and AMV BBDO’s own 18-year contribution. But brand and agency clearly remain a great team. 

AMV’s group chairman and chief executive, Cilla Snowball, says, "This is a long-term relationship that has yielded world-class work. No-one is complacent in this relationship. The bar is high, the legacy strong and the consumer expectations of our work relentless, the world over."

Guinness: (l-r, on location for the 2014 "Sapeurs" ad) Nicholas Hulley, creative director, AMV; Stephen O’Kelly, marketing director, Guinness (Western Europe), Diageo; Nadja Lossgott, creative director, AMV; and Amber Glenister, former account director, AMV.

Stephen O’Kelly

Guinness marketing director (Western Europe), Diageo

The success of the partnership between Guinness and AMV BBDO over the years has been remarkable. The quality of a range of award-winning work is testament to the strong and productive relationship we have nurtured. And in the past 18 months in particular we’ve struck a rich vein of form. The creativity, vibrancy and energy of "Sapeurs," the recent rugby work showcasing the "made of more" stories of Gareth Thomas, Shane Williams and Jonny Wilkinson, and the epic story of John Hammond are some highlights we’ve enjoyed working on together.

Guinness has always had success showing characters who have a certain twinkle in their eye and telling stories of real people "made of more". Much of the credit for the variety of storylines has to go to the creative teams over the years, who have been nothing short of exceptional. It’s a partnership in every sense of the word. The talent in the teams means that there’s always rich input and conversation at every point in the development process.

AMV is more than just our creative agency partner — it is our key strategic agency partner. It understands the challenges we face and is ideally positioned to understand what creative will work best to overcome those challenges and maximize opportunities.

The relationship that we’ve built is in itself unique. The Guinness account team within AMV cares as much as we do about ensuring the creative is as good as it can be. We share a common passion for the creative process and care deeply about every small detail within each communication that goes out.

Everyone who works on a piece of Guinness creative, from the brand or the agency side, has a voice. They are encouraged to contribute ideas from the beginning of the process to the sign-off of the final frame. People feel massively passionate about Guinness and, indeed, about its advertising, so it’s important that we take on board a wide range of thoughts and opinions. It means the process can be long, but rewarding.

Nadja Lossgott and Nicholas Hulley

Creative directors behind the Guinness "Sapeurs" and rugby campaigns, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

Guinness has one of the greatest back catalogues in advertising. "Surfer"; "Swim Black"; "noitulovE" (which was a Grand Prix-winner at Cannes) are not just great Guinness ads, they’re three of the best ads of all time.

It’s an honor to work at an agency and for a client that has such a calibre of work in its DNA and continues to set the bar with work like "Clock," "Cloud," "Made of Black" and the recent Rugby World Cup ads.

That makes it both a daunting and inspiring brand for anybody to work on. There’s a lot to live up to, but also the chance to add to one of the world’s iconic brands. The agency is always trying to find a way to live up to the Guinness legacy, which means you have to try to be unexpected and different, and ensure you move the brand with every ad, without ever losing its core principles: unexpected ideas, well told, dripping with class, and that capture the public imagination.

We love working with Stephen because we have the same approach to the work. We’re happy crafting and crafting. And if we don’t always agree on every single point, we trust each other to know that we are all trying to get to something great. It’s fantastic to have an ambitious client that gets as excited about great ideas and wonderful directors as we do. It’s an inspiring way to work.

With Guinness, the agency has always "gone on the journey" together, sharing our thoughts regularly. The openness has built up a level of trust, which has benefitted the work. Trust allows you to take risks, and to be left alone to solve problems rather than be told what to do. This process is mirrored internally, too. You can’t do anything on your own. We’ve been lucky to be surrounded by smart producers, passionate account people and incredible creative directors who keep everything going.

The Rugby World Cup is an example of how digital has changed things. On match days, we had a team monitoring the game for "Made of more" moments that were trending, with creative, design, community management, media, PR and client teams ready to add to the conversation with reactive content. In some instances, new, highly relevant, content was posted within four hours of the final whistle.

Guinness has made great advertising in so many different eras, on so many platforms, yet over the years it has always felt like "Guinness work."

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