Why is Guinness not growing?
I’m on the same wavelength as Mark Ritson, Professor of Brand Management at London Business School. I’ve one a bit of guest lecturing on his MBA programme, and I always reading his weekly column in Marketing magazine. This week he was scathing in his criticism of Guinness’ new commercial. Mark’s challenge is that the ad is a beautiful blockbuster of a film, but one that has absolutely nothing to do with the product or the brand. He blames this type of communication for the decline in sales the brand has suffered in the last 10 years. Well, I agree with Mark. And I don’t.
I agree with Mark that the "Domino" ad is a visual masterpiece, but one without
a really clear product message. It features 90 seconds of all sorts of objects (cars, beds, books) knocking
each other over in a domino effect that makes its way dramatically
through a remote Argentinian village. It ends with a huge tower of
books that look a bit like a glass of Guinness and the endline "Good
things come to those who wait". I’ve always though this was a quite clever idea, as it took a negative
(Guinness takes a lot longer to pour than other beers) and turned it
into a positive. The idea being that this is a real man’s beer, not
watery lager, and like all good things in life, it takes time.
Well, if you keep watching for the full 90 seconds, I guess you might
get the idea. But its all a bit metaphorical. There is no sign of any
Guinness drinkers. And the product is seen for only one of the 90 seconds.
Previous Guinness ads had great production values, but had clearer and more explicit communication of "Good things come to those who wait".
I liked the "swimmer" ad with an old Italian guy trying to swim an outdoor circuit before the Guinness had settled. He’s racing for a pint of Guinness, so the product is more central. The voice-over even spells out that it takes 119.5 seconds for the pint to settle.
Where I differ from Mark is that I think two bigger factors than advertising are behind the declining sales of Guinness: targeting and the product itself. These ads seem to be trying to recruit younger drinkers, who account for a big share of drinking, by making the brand cool and aspirational. However, they find Guinness hard to drink, as its dark, heavy and bitter. Many of them might actually like and respect the brand, but dislike the product. They prefer lighter, refreshing drinks, as shown by the explosion in sales of cider.
Rather than spending millions trying to push stout uphill and grow Guinness’s usage amongst younger drinkers, might there be more profit in lowering growth expectations and also lowering spending. Guinness could target more mature drinkers with more mature palates and make more of the product story. They might win less creative awards, and even sell a bit less beer, but make more money.