Brand Thinking

Iconic Brands: Guinness


This is the first post in the Luna Series: Iconic Brands: Why Are They So Good? We cover Guinness, the well-known, intensely Irish and unique black stuff.

If you visit the Luna office, you can see immediately that we love the Guinness brand. Yes, we do have a desire to collect brand memorabilia for the office to inspire us when we do our own branding work.

The famous Stout is brewed in Dublin and has been for over 259 years, and according to the original lease signed by Arthur Guinness, it will continue to be for another 8,741 years (the lease was for 9,000 years). This delicious beer, enjoyed by millions, is a masterclass in branding, rebranding and repositioning.


f you have not been to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, get yourself over there. It’s an amazing visit for anyone who loves brand. It is effectively a museum to Guinness with a bar at the top for a great finish.

For a brand to be famous and have a strong identity it needs to be unique enough to be differentiated from other similar brands. Guinness does this by having such a distinctive appearance and taste, establishing itself as an important part of Irish culture.

The brand plays consciously to its Irish roots through its location, the founder being Irish, as well as having a reversed harp as the logo that is the same as the official state symbol for Ireland but has cleverly been turned around. In addition to this it often associated with working people and especially industrial workers (Ireland having a strong industry and working culture).

The thing that really tipped Guinness over the edge of being a world-famous brand was their nearly flawless marketing communications. This started with the early Guinness ads featuring the famous strapline: “Guinness is good for you” a claim originating from the iron content and doctors telling new mothers to drink Guinness. This tagline was used by Guinness until regulations forced them to change it to “Guinness for strength”. Regulations though did not cause the marketing to faulter. The company simply rebranded to use a much more humours tone of voice with straplines such as “Guinness isn’t good for you” and “My goodness my Guinness”. Beyond straplines Guinness also made great use of a mascot as a brand element with their well-known toucan who was absurd enough to be memorable but not so much as to overtake the brand.

The true mastery of Guinness’s advertising is seen in its TV ads, with their most famous ad known as “the Surfer” was voted the best ad on TV of all time in 2002 and won more awards than any other ad in 1999. The ad shows a group of surfers riding a huge wave in black and white that seamlessly becomes a stampede of white horses and closes with the line: “Good things come to those who wait” referencing the amount of time it takes to get the “perfect pour”. These ads are so memorable and have such an emotional appeal that they have made Guinness not only a big name in branding but also in advertising. Even ignoring “the Surfer” Guinness has been famous for its epic TV ads with others such as Guinness Clear and Compton Cowboys.

Another way Guinness successfully positioned their brand was with its association with rugby. In a market where many prestigious brands like Stella Artois or Carlsberg fall from grace because of associations with football hooliganism or violence, Guinness has managed to avoid similar issues by always associating itself with rugby. Rugby as a sport seems to face less image issues than football with it always seeming to portray itself as a game of respect and sportsmanship and with much less infamy for hooliganism. Guinness’s choice to be a rugby beer has meant that it has not been tarnished like Stella but instead strengthened by being seen alongside players who are strong and stout much like Guinness itself. This is a partnership that has continued onwards and has made Guinness a major sponsor for the Six Nations since.

Despite their age, Guinness has remained innovative and repositioned the brand subtly multiple times to remain relevant. For example, when Brew Dog rose to power in a wave of craft IPAs, Guinness released its “Hop House 13”, its fruity, IPA-like larger and remained a dominant force. Beyond products, when Guinness’s relevance was threatened once again, they were able to pivot the brand and separate itself from the competition. This was the Guinness Clear campaign, the brave “anti-ad” that was part of the Guinness six nations sponsorship and asked customers to order water instead of beer to promote responsible drinking. To say it was a success would be a huge understatement, Guinness was once again inseparable from rugby in people’s minds and was back on track as the famous beer brand we all know and love, despite not even really promoting the beer.

Guinness is a well defined and deservedly successful brand and one of the leaders in the drinks market. A lot can be learned from their approach and positive refinement of their brand.

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