John McGee: BBDO’s ‘Home of the Black Stuff’ still a Christmas advertising cracker – 19 years on
From the great John McGee Sindo:
The summer of 2004 was hot and a heatwave was experienced in many parts of the country. As they tend to do during periods of hot weather, sales of Guinness declined as polyamorous punters opted for colder and faster dispensed lagers and ciders.
But it was too late in the season to arrest the decline. Instead, Guinness would try and reclaim the lost ground by doubling down during the busy Christmas season with a new advertising campaign.
The ad was created by a team at creative agency Irish International, now BBDO Dublin, with legendary creative director Mal Stephenson at the helm and the established and talented duo of art director, Pat Hamill and copywriter, Mark Nutley providing the creative ammunition.
With a budget of €750,000, a sizeable investment by Guinness at the time, filming for the campaign began at various locations around Ireland in September.
Apart from Dublin, some of the locations chosen to feature in the ad included Claddagh in Galway, City Hall in Belfast and a pub called J O’Connell in Skryne, Co Meath. From start to finish, the ad took three months to complete, included a crew of 30 people across four locations and involved five days of night shoots to get it right.
The crew included six special effects people from the UK special effects company Snowbusiness which was chosen for its work on several James Bond movies, as well as Stanley Kubrick’s classic The Shining. In addition, a special musical composition by the British composer Kevin Sargent was also commissioned while Mal Stephenson’s dog, Bilko, was enlisted to play a brief cameo role.
During the 60-second ad, just seven words were uttered – “don’t forget to turn the lights off” – and despite Guinness footing the bill, not a pint is to be seen anywhere.
Nearly 20 years on, the ‘The Home of Guinness’ campaign has achieved iconic status and has endured much longer than its collaborators could ever have anticipated or hoped for. Uniquely Irish and evoking a strong sense of nostalgia, it is still a regular festive feature in the advertising calendar.
It will also come as no surprise to learn that the ad, which is back on TV screens, has topped this year’s ‘Who Wins Christmas?’ annual survey carried out by Red C research which used proprietary research to test 18 Christmas ads currently running for their creativity, distinctiveness, fame and emotional response.
In doing so, it saw off stiff competition from other festive advertisers like Woodies’ campaign, ‘We are all homemakers’ featuring Mrs Higgins; Cadbury’s ‘Secret Santa’, Amazon’s ‘Joy Ride’ and Tayto’s ‘Everyone Gets a Gift’ depicting the big man in red getting a present from Mr Tayto.
An interesting aside to this is that none of this would have been possible without the leap of faith taken by the marketers working in Guinness back in 2004, some of whom were in the early stages of their careers.
It included Paul Kelly who was marketing director of Guinness and who now heads up Fáilte Ireland.
Also on the team was Tom Kinsella, former chief marketing officer (CMO) with AIB and now head of the bank’s homes division; Damian Devaney, a former global CMO for Smurfit Kappa and now one of the country’s top marketers; April Adams Redmond, formerly CMO with Kerry and now global CMO with Pepsi Lipton in Switzerland and Mark Ody, formerly chief customer and marketing officer with companies like Mediahuis, publisher of this newspaper, who is now a leading marketing adviser based in France.
While it may be Guinness’s longest-running ad campaign, it also demonstrates the power of good marketing and clever advertising and, most of all, its ability to resonate with consumers at the right time and the right place.