The Failure Awards Advertising Guinness

The Failure Awards for defunct branding | #6 Guinness Light


By Andrew Eborn, president

September 19, 2017 | 4 min read

In this weekly series, Andrew Eborn shines a light on the products and services, brand extensions and campaigns that failed to take off and have as a result earned entry into the Octopus TV Failure Awards and a place in The Museum of Failure. Last time we looked at Harvey Davidson's eau de toilette. Today, we remember when a much-loved brand made a misguided journey into the light...

The ill-fated Guinness Light toppled like a drunk who'd had too many pints

The ill-fated Guinness Light toppled like a drunk who'd had too many pints

In 2011 it was announced that Guinness would launch Crystal Guinness. No doubt inspired by Crystal Pepsi (another Failure Awards nominee on which more later). This was a response to market share lost to Bulmers Irish Cider.

Market research had apparently indicated that the dark coloured Guinness was just “too intimidating” for some. And so Crystal Guinness – "the clear stuff” – was born.

Apparently, Crystal Guinness went through the same roasting process that gave Guinness stout its signature dark colour but a “secret formula” was added at the roasting phase to produce the opposite effect – resulting in a completely clear beer that "maintains Guinness’ flavour but is significantly lighter in texture, having only 95 calories per pint".

crystal guinness


The date of the announcement – 1 April 2011 – was a subtle clue.

The joke cloak

In this post-truth era, every day is April Fool's Day.

So often fact is stranger than fiction. Many products sound as though they should be April Fool’s gags but are not.

Think about products that are the complete antithesis of a brand’s core values: WB40 aftershave was a classic spoof; Harley-Davidson’s eau de toilette was not.

Toucan (geddit?) play at that game...

guinness toucan

Some extensive research following a well-informed tip off and nomination for The Octopus TV Failure Awards – cheers, Pat Savage! – led me to Guinness Light.

Guinness executive P.J. McKenna claimed the low calorie Guinness Light should appeal to younger people moving more to ales and lagers.

At the fabulous futurist launch at St James’s Gate Brewery on 26 June 1979 models dressed in space suits emerged from a space ship to serve pints in the presence of Dublin’s then Lord Mayor William Cumiskey.


The advertising campaign used the tagline "they said it couldn't be done."

..and indeed it couldn't.

Guinness Light was such a spectacular flop The Irish Times called it “The HMS Titanic of stout products".

As one critic put it, the taste could not have been less appealing – it was enough to drive you to drink!

...And so as quickly as it appeared, Guinness Light was ushered back onto that space ship and disappeared to go and explore Uranus…

guinness light launch ad


The dark one’s journey into the light was a failure. For that reason Guinness Light is this week’s nomination for The Octopus TV Failure Awards.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewEborn and @OctopusTV

From failed products and services to campaigns and ads we would rather forget, we want to encourage organisations and brands to be better at learning from failures not just ignoring them and pretending they never happened.

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