I have been illustrating a number of beer advertising campaigns over the last few months. The first that I illustrated was the hilarious anti-hipster campaign from a South African brewing company. Their approach was to lambast those who are into the fashion that is craft beer and instead attempt to cement a sense of authenticity of their beer while poking fun at those obsessed with the trendiness of craft beer. The second campaign was a mean-spirited attempt by Shocktop to attempt to change the nature of the discussion of beer from the quality of beer to anything else so they don’t have to explain how awful their beer is. They gave voice to their mascot, Wedgehead, acting like the perfect frat party “bro” by throw quick insults at the craft beer industry.
I had my opinions of both these campaigns and what I thought might be their effectiveness to getting people to buy their products. In a move to illustrate the converse I wanted to illustrate what I think is an amazing advertising campaign for beer. One that truly illustrates the power of the visual medium and captures the true significance of what beer means to many drinkers.
This is best illustrated by Guinness USA and a few of their most recent commercials in the US.
The first is embedded above and it shows a bunch of men competing in wheelchair basketball. They seem to be competing very seriously and passionately yet with a high degree of fellowship and sportsmanship. After forty seconds of competitive play footage the game ends and the all the players save one get up out of their wheelchairs to walk out. The last man being the only one who is confined to his wheelchair. The commercial cuts to them all at the bar having a round of Guinness with the slogan: “Dedication. Loyalty. Friendship. The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.”
The second commercial embedded above shows a bartender pouring a Guinness every night for an empty table. As the days wear on into definite seasonal changes it shows her dedication and respect for whomever or whatever she is remembering by leaving an empty table and a full beer at the bar each night. Near the end of the commercial a guy tries to borrow a chair from the table only to get a stern and silent stare from the bartender until he quickly apologizes and returns the chair. The end of the commercial has a man in soldier camouflage, clearly back from deployment, returning to his favorite bar where the bartender nods toward the empty table and fill Guinness that has waited since he left. The bar patrons all raise a silent glass in thanks and honor while again the new Guinness slogan plays: “Dedication. Loyalty. Friendship. The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.”
These commercials are great for so many reasons but what strikes me about them is that they aren’t really even about the beer. You could easily replace the Guinness with any other beer and nothing would be lost from the commercials. The friends enjoying the round after playing basketball could have enjoyed a Stone IPA or Mike’s Hard Lemonade or a Pepsi. Similarly the soldier’s beer of choice could have been a whiskey sour, a glass of ice water, or a Bear Republic Racer 5. There is nothing unique to Guinness that makes this aim significant.
What the advertising campaign that created these commercials for Guinness has realized that drinking is a largely social activity. While the beer itself is relevant, the memories shared through important social events trump any significant characteristics of the beer being drunk while those activities are taking place.
Mike and I discussed downing many a PBR before storming our local stadium to cheer on the Lancaster Barnstormers over the York Revolution and while I much preferred the Sierra Nevada I was drinking at the park, the Pabst we enjoyed at the BBQ before the game will forever be a nostalgic part of that experience.
A hand crafted Kobe beef burger is always going to taste better than a barely meat patty from McDonalds but if you have more great memories associated to trips to McDonald’s than eating alone at a fine restaurant that McRib is going to have a more favorable impression in your memory than it merits.
In a way Guinness seems to be advertising for the social experience of beer more than their own beer. If they are advertising their own beer it is to associate the idea that people of high character drink Guinness and that if you want to be (or emulate) that you should as well.
But I think the more optimistic reading of the commercial is that in life the beer isn’t what is important. It is the people you surround yourself with and that if you are going to enjoy a beer with the friends, family, lovers it doesn’t really matter what the beer is. The experience and the memory matters far more than what is in your pint glass.
Perhaps this is my plea for civility in the world of beer. While we have our opinions of American light lagers I’m happy to share a grand experience regardless of what’s in your glass.
So cheers to Guinness for knowing that being classy is always the best approach.
I may even have to have a pint of the black stuff the next time I’m out at the pub.