An increasing number of brands are tapping into the Guinness World Records (GWR) as a way to certify the superiority of their products, leading the company to set up a dedicated 'agency' to help them break records.
The GWR is in its 64th year of publication and despite largely not deviating from its original purpose it has slowly restructured its business over time to find more commercial opportunities.
“Of the top 100 brands in the world, 55 of them have GWR’s,” Sam Fay, senior vice president of global brand strategy at Guinness World Records recently told The Drum, its latest partner as we try to break to world record for the longest guitar lesson.
Unilever, for example, has 32 of them, including the longest line of washed plates to prove the effectiveness of its washing detergent brand Vim, the most high fives given to a mascot in three minutes and the largest collection of clothes for donation, consisting 146,411 items for the Comfort and Omo brands.
“It was about ten years ago, in 2009, when we started to get more inquiries from brands and businesses wanting to know if they could do record-breaking in their campaigns,” recalls Fay, with agencies often making the first contact.
From then on, an appetite has grown from those eager to tap into the world of Guinness World Records for their own marketing efforts.
Drawn in by the opportunity to create newsworthy and shareable content, interest has grown and today of the 1500 enquiries it receives a week, 45% are commercial.
To fuel this growth, the company recently launched Creative Campaign Solutions, a dedicated branded content division focused on helping brands and businesses break world records as part of a campaign or corporate event.
This division houses up to 40 people, making up about a quarter of the workforce.
So far, GWR has worked with the likes of Apple, Red Bull, McDonald's, Google, Ikea, Disney and Alibaba Group.
This is the also first year in Guinness World Records business where the revenue generated from commercial partnerships has matched that of books sales.
"What's brilliant about meeting these brands and agencies is there is almost a chance to do something different with the heritage," Fay said.
It has seen the tallest house of cards build in 12 hours, sat on top an LG washing machine, to demonstrate its reduced vibrations and noise levels; iconic car brand Jaguar celebrated its 80th anniversary by breaking the record for the largest loop the loop in a car and Panasonic earned the title for longest-lasting AA alkaline battery cell.
"It's an inventive way of selling your product," Glenday said. "LG came us to as they wanted to promote how quiet its machines are, but it's a hard one to judge. So we used that as a base and used the card tower to visually depict it. People will remember the visual," he added.
Not only does breaking a world record generate interesting content for customers to lap up, for the likes of Panasonic which got a world record for the longest-lasting battery, it is also a certificate of quality, as the world's best product.
And, when you turn to the stats, it seems the approach is working. "We do surveys and outreach after brands have broken the record. What they tell us is that there is huge social uplift on social media channels, as you obviously get a lot of eyeballs,” Fay explained.
According to its own analysis, 95% of companies that make a world record attempt see an increase in media coverage, 88% saw an increase in web traffic and 69% saw an increase in sales.
Brands run in its veins
“Often people say to me, you’ve sold out because we’re doing all this stuff with brands,” admits Craig Glenday, GWR's editor. “But they seem to forget that the original purpose of the book was to sell Guinness."
The origins of the book begin during a shooting party in 1951. While arguing over which was the fastest game bird, the managing director of the Guinness brewery, Sir Hugh Beaver, realised that a book that would give them the definite answer did not exist. There was no Google Assistant to ask your question to. It made him think about the many other questions that get debated nightly in pubs, that never got resolved.
Answering Beaver’s need for a book that could settle arguments about records, the Guinness Book of Records was born as a promotional stunt by the Irish brewer.
Given Irish-based Guinness was struggling for space in brewers pubs, they thought "Why don't we encourage them to have a pint, have a Guinness and solve that by referring to some kind of reference book or pamphlet which you could give free to all the pubs?" Glenday explained.
And it proved to be very successful, with the first book was top of the bestseller list at Christmas.
From then on, the reference book was published annually, listing world records both of human achievements and the extremes of the natural world.
Keen to stay ahead of the curve, Guinness World Records has adapted over the years, offering more than a glossy hardback book, a staple present at Christmas. Across the globe, the book has evolved into a small museum franchise, various TV series have been commissioned and there has even been a number of hit albums.
“We have that flexibility, we can mould and shape to anything,” said Glenday. “It’s what we’ve always done.”
In his opinion, the challenge is to try to catch a trend before it comes into being. “When CD ROMs came out, we went into that, we had video games. And it was one of the first apps on the iPad,” he said.
Navigating the strains on publishing
In 2019, GWR feels the opportunities lie in the production of online content and fewer, but larger events.
With nearly 16 million Facebook likes, 3.3 million Instagram followers, 250,000 Twitter followers and over 5 million YouTube subscribers, Guinness World Records has a highly active online audience, beyond the books.
"Content used to just be in the book, published once a year," Glenday said. "Whereas now, we've got daily posting on Facebook, and we've just broken our 5 million followers on YouTube."
Fay felt this platform gives it a "real opportunity to be much more of a media and entertainment company.” And, with the publishing industry navigating rough seas in recent years, by adapting to current trends, GWR is finding its own safety net.
"For all of us in the publishing industry, as publishing has declined, we've seen a chance to do something different with the heritage," Fay explained.
Glenday "wants to be doing stuff that's big and bold," which involves beefing up its content, larger events while looking for various partnerships with companies, so it can do more record-breaking across the globe.
There are even plans in place for a Guinness World Record's theme park.