The advertising that shaped my career: the rebirth of Guinness

Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO making a virtue of Guinness's long pouring time taught me about the magic of advertising, writes Domino's top marketer

My cat has delayed the writing of this piece by lying on my lap, peacefully, a living shrine to tranquillity. Perhaps the pang we feel when we depart from a person (or cat) we love is because it is a rehearsal for the ultimate departure, that we will all one day make, unto death.

There’s a small parallel here to me leaving WHSmith in the early noughties – for whom for five years I used to regularly scramble into our agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO as a young advertising exec, knowing that I probably wouldn’t work with them in the same guise going forward. Like your first love, remembered through the mist.

Their office was situated in Marylebone, a mere ketchup squeeze from the station. From Pascoe on reception through to Cilla Snowball at the helm, this was an ad agency at the absolute top of its game. Peter Mead’s wonderful autobiography, Be Nice, paints a vivid picture of AMV BBDO trying to be the best, versus being the biggest.

Its brands and resulting creative oozed class and disruption. Of course being the best ultimately resulted in the agency being number one for revenues too.

Taking this negative nugget, spinning it on its head, and portraying the barrier so creatively through this script was a sight to behold.

I looked on from afar at AMV BBDO’s Guinness output, the mainstay of its advertising. The broad brief must have been to take this ageing draught stout and revitalise it as a more youthful, exciting drinking choice.

The more specific conundrum was how to turn around the adverse consumer opinion of the length of time required to correctly pour a pint of the black stuff from the tap.  Customers talked about switching drinks at the bar simply due to the lengthy waits.

AMV BBDO’s proposal was truly groundbreaking in trying to embrace the 119.5 second pour by making it a real virtue – "Good things come to those who wait".

This would hopefully add quality and value cues, as well as mitigating the delay, and encouraging bartenders to take their time.  The ad output reversed this customer feedback, and did so in spades with a raft of dramatic creatives.

The best known and lauded is clearly Tom & Walt’s 1999 Surfer commercial, with its wondrous CGI galloping horses crashing through the waves.

However, the ad that made the greatest impression on me in my early marketing days was the same duo’s launch one - Swimblack - in May 1998.

Here an ageing Italian sports hero would annually swim in a race from an offshore buoy to his brother's seafront pub. All this was against the "clock" of a pint of Guinness being correctly poured at the bar in the allotted 119.5 seconds.  

Its better dramatisation of the consumer insight is what I remember affecting me deeply.  Taking this negative nugget, spinning it on its head, and portraying the barrier so creatively through this script was a sight to behold.

This campaign glittered amidst the drab beverage equivalents of the time. Even parking my solipsism, I was lucky enough back then to witness this agency’s shimmering work close up, and it made me and my career all the better for it.

Tony Holdway is sales and marketing director at Domino’s UK & ROI, and a member of Campaign's Power 100


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