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Editors’ picks: the best Guinness ads of all time


By The Drum, Editorial

May 18, 2021 | 9 min read

Whether it was the celebration of the reopening of pubs across the world or the go-to stout’s signature flavor, the new ‘looks like Guinness’ campaign struck a chord with readers of The Drum. Yes, it’s yet another memorable ad for a brand that has been on top of its game for decades.

Guinness surfers

With no shortage of inspiring creative, we’re swimming in options for Guinness’ best spots of all time

The success of the new spot gave the editors of The Drum pause as they openly debated which Guinness ad was their favorite of all time. Interestingly, each selected a different spot. Here’s what they picked and why. Their selections are sure to stoke our readers’ desire for more great advertising and, of course, more pints.

Cameron Clarke, editor: Swim Black

‘Surfer’ may be many people’s choice as the best Guinness ad ever made – after all, it’s many people’s choice as the best ad ever made full stop – but for my money, ‘Swim Black’, the ad that came before it, is the better story.

When AMV won the account from Ogilvy in 1998, its principal challenge was to turn around the negative consumer opinion of the time it takes to correctly pour a pint of Guinness. Enter creative director Peter Souter, copywriter Tom Carty and art director Walter Campbell – a teetotaler who had never touched a drop of the black stuff – who took the inspired decision to not only not shy away from the 119.5-second wait, but to make patience a virtue. The rest, as they say, is advertising history.

This was the ad that introduced the ‘Good things come to those who wait’ line. And its story of the aging local sports hero’s annual swimming race against the ‘clock’ of a pint of Guinness being poured perfectly at his brother’s bar remains one of the finest encapsulations of that expression. ‘Swim Black’ boosted sales, giving Guinness the confidence to make ‘Surfer’, and paved the way for some of the best advertising of the next two decades. AMV (now with added BBDO) holds the account to this day, entrusted with upholding the traditions started here. ‘Swim Black’ may not be the best Guinness ad ever made, but it’s arguably the most important.

Charlotte McEleny, publisher, APAC: Surfer

I once worked with a copy editor who banned the word ‘iconic’ unless it was literally referring to a religious icon. She was fed up with the hyperbole that permeated advertising press releases, which in turn made its way into writers’ copy. It was a decision I agreed with – with one exception. For me the most iconic ad of all time is Guinness Surfer.

I was in school when this ad aired in the late ’90s, and at that time, major TV ads would be talked about in the playground. Just like the songs and films of the time, advertising anchors us to memories and times. The powerful black and white imagery was moving. The campaign tagline, ‘Good Things Come to Those Who Wait’ was persuasive. But the soundtrack from Leftfield (Phat Planet) rouses memories most clearly from the back of my mind: kids running around singing ‘dundadundundadundun’, galloping like the horses bursting from the waves. I remember my dad buying Rhythm And Stealth, the album that the song is from, and playing it at full volume on car rides for fun days out. ‘Guinness Surfer’ defined a cultural moment in time, and very few ads have the ability to do that.

Kenneth Hein, US Editor: St Patrick’s Day morning

OK, so I’m dating myself, but back when I started covering advertising, the agencies used to send the latest spots on 3/4 inch VHS tapes. The editorial staff would take turns entering a small room that housed the lone VHS machine and a medium-sized analog TV. Given all the effort it took to even watch a new ad, we weren’t easily impressed. Now, I’m not saying this homage to St Patrick’s Day morning is the best Guinness ad of all time – far from it. But it is my favorite because I fell off my chair in the VHS viewing room all those years ago.

Imogen Watson, senior reporter (creative): Lovely day for a Guinness

Old Guinness illustrations

Whenever I think of Guinness, my mind floats to the animal creations from the mind of John Gilroy – the artist behind the legendary lines, ‘Guinness is good for you’ and ‘My goodness, my Guinness’. Oh, and the hapless ‘Zoo Keeper’ (a caricature of Gilroy himself), who spends his working hours chasing the zoo’s menagerie of mischievous animals in an attempt to reclaim his pint. So instead of choosing my favorite ad, I wanted to choose Gilroy’s artwork – particularly the humorous zookeeper series.

Despite being created by Gilroy many years ago, the iconic toucan, playful sea lion and beer-guzzling ostrich are still firmly lodged in our collective memory. Described as a ‘polymath of the painting world,’ he created some of the best art in advertising and his work for Guinness is credited with moving the beer brand’s advertising forward. The posters even made it to the screen in 1955. The TV ad opens, ‘A Guinness poster comes to life,’ whereby his famous painting of the performing sea lion is seen in real life, balancing a beer on its nose – much to the keeper’s annoyance.

Jen Faull, senior editor: Anticipation

‘Anticipation’ was more than just an ad – it sparked a dance craze, a nation’s love of mambo music and a high court legal drama all in a few short months. As a journalist writing about advertising (who was, admittedly, six years old when this first hit screens), it really must have been the gift that kept on giving.

The spot was the best, and last, in the series for the ‘No time like Guinness Time’ campaign. It starred then-little known Irish actor Joe McKinney, who impatiently danced around as he waited for his pint to settle. The tune (Guaglione by Pérez Prado, which I’m sorry to say will be stuck in your head all week) was the only one able to knock Riverdance off the top spot in the Irish music chart that year. RIVERDANCE.

By all accounts, pubs were packed with people recreating the loose-limbed Dubliner’s questionable moves. Can you imagine if TikTok had been a thing then? But perhaps the lack of social media was a blessing for McKinney, who became so popular he went on a two-year tour of Europe as ‘the Guinness ad guy’ before fleeing to the US where no one would recognize him.

And like all good stories, it wasn’t without its drama. Guinness faced (and ultimately won) a legal dispute when director Mehdi Norowzian claimed that the Dublin agency behind it, Arks, plagiarized his work in a case that ended up in the High Court and sparked calls for copyright reform. But behind the headlines was just a joyous piece of work that got people talking over a pint – how many brands can say the same about one of their ads?

John McCarthy, media editor: Compton cowboys

So many brands talk about storytelling, so few actually do it. Via Guinness, I learned that there are cowboys in Compton saving horses from slaughterhouses – the world is more creative and magic than you could ever know, apparently.

The cowboys deserve a movie; instead we get an agonizingly short glimpse at the old west meeting the new west. It effortlessly sparks my wanderlust (which often ends with a Guinness in hand). Pedants could argue it’s barely branded and doesn’t hit you over the head with any product benefits. But from its inception, Guinness has always been a storytelling brand. This work sparks that association and gets me excited to hear people recount similar remarkable stories in the pub once more.

Thomas O’Neill, managing editor: Sapeurs

“In life, you cannot always choose what you do, but you can always choose who you are.” Guinness has long been fond of a stirring voiceover to complement its striking visuals, and its 2014 effort ‘Sapeurs’ didn’t disappoint.

Telling the story of The Society of Elegant Persons of the Congo, the spot depicts some extraordinary humans embodying the brand’s ‘Made of More’ strapline.

Taxi drivers, carpenters, warehouse workers by day, come nighttime these fashionistas reach beyond their circumstances to peacock through the streets of Brazzaville with fashion and flair, radiating joy in a country emerging from the ravages of war.

And while you might find it difficult to get someone to proclaim it Guinness’s greatest ad ever, you’ll find it impossible to get someone to sit through it without a beaming smile on their face.

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