Cast your mind back to the Victorian era, and imagine you dwell near the Gin quarters and crowded slums. The first National Insurance Act of 1911 is yet to arrive and the cost of medical attention is high. Doctors treating low-income patients are rumoured to prescribe Guinness for a variety of afflictions, including influenza, nervous conditions and post-natal depression. Guinness was more affordable than medicines, but rarely recommended in public as a medicant.
The Guinness team decided to investigate, so a series of pamphlets to doctor’s nationwide, advocating the beer’s benefits and asking for opinions. A huge number, including Harley Street residents, affirmed their beliefs in the nutritious and disease-busting values of the beer – only 2 percent of responses were negative. Doctors even referred to the beer as a "tonic," with "therapeutic value."
Guinness’ boosting properties became a branding plaform for the beer until well into the 1960s, encapsulated in the famous "Guinness is Good for You" slogan in 1928. This was used for almost a decade, until 1937, when John Gilroy, creator of the beloved Guinness Toucan, advanced the positioning. Further slogans included "A Guinness A Day," "Guinness for Strength" and "My Goodness My Guinness."
A few consequent studies have proffered medical insights into the claims, although the topic is still much debated today. Concentrations of antioxidants, such as those found in fruit and veg, inhibit harmful deposits on artery walls - other lagers don’t all have the same effects. Some have also recommended the low-calorie beer as a source of iron, hence the one-time use of Guinness post-operations, after blood donation and as a galactagogue for nursing mothers. Even today some pregnant women extol the virtues of drinking Guinness. Reports of Gwyneth Paltrow in 2006 being spotted with a Guinness outside a restaurant in New York while pregnant caused a stir, but in the last few years she's given her favorite beer credit in interviews for being one of her best beauty secrets.
The mid-century advent of stricter advertising standards propelled the brand to look for a new resonance. Moving away from being medicine for the body, Guinness became fodder for the soul. The brand repositioned itself as the beer that benefits us, and today’s beloved Irish tipple has evolved considerably from the 1900s Victorian remedy.
The 1998 "Surfer" ad was a definitive moment in Guinness’ good-for-you messaging. The ad compared the brand experience to the tension of surfers awaiting a wave, and the consquent cathartic exhilaration of mastering the pounding surf. Horses leapt over the breaking waves, hooves hammering the sea below. The ad won more awards than any other commercial at the time, and in 2002 was voted "Best ad of all time" in a poll from Channel 4 and The Sunday Times. It enjoyed a revival in 2013, when surf photographer Brian Bielmann shot new footage of the Tahitian waves. The message was simple: Guinness is a feel-good factor, a boon for health and wellbeing.
The current "Made of More" campaign continues to resonate this message, with some imaginative and evocative stories. January 2013’s "Clock" ad personifies the town clock, fast-forwarding time, and turning it back again to avert disaster and prolong the townfolk’s special moments. The "Friendship" ad features a wheelchair-basketball game, ending with all but one participant standing up at the end of the game, walking off the court, and drinking a pint with their wheelchair-bound mate.
The voiceover pronounces: "The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character." The spot was hailed as one of the most effective TV beer ads this year, beating other brands in popularity stakes, with some stats claiming it had outranked competitors by 30 percent. It accumulated more than 7.5 million views, and was praised for departing from more customary laid-back-lifestyle beer messaging.
Guinness drew on a different interpretation of masculinity and sports – comradeship. The story again carries the feel-good momentum, communicating the message that Guinness facilitates more meaningful moments in life, and can improve how we live.
Over the path of a century, the brand has communicated in a variety of ways, but has maintained its original resonance. From Victorian tonic to today’s pub favourite, Guinness has always been more than just beer.
Jemima Maunder-Taylor is an Analyst, Brand Strategy at Interbrand London.