There aren’t that many brands that immediately bring to mind an iconic image. McDonald’s has the golden arches, for example, something most people in the world will have seen at least a few times in their lives. Nike has the ‘swoosh’, a logo that needs no words to convey the image of sport and athleticism combined. And Guinness, well, Guinness has the image of a pint of black liquid that people immediately recognise and connect to. It has been around for a long time, and it is so iconic it even has a cognitive link to Ireland. That cognitive link is strong enough to convey an entire population and its history.

Guinness has always been popular, but you can’t be popular with everyone. The brand took on the services of a digital agency (R/GA) recently in an attempt to build a presence and sense of relevance online.

The Black And White Road Ahead For Guinness In Social Media

This is no small matter because Guinness is famous for dominating the world of TV ads. When TV ads were huge Guinness was bigger, its marketing agencies producing gorgeous, memorable ad spots that perfectly conveyed a sense of tradition and taste. Granted, that was some time ago, but many people still remember the brand for what it did on TV.

In fact, the brand became famous for its TV spots. These were generally black and white, filmed beautifully, and usually with a stirring score. This is all well and good, and these spots helped embed the brand in the world’s minds. Great imagery, great music. But things have changed somewhat, and TV, while still powerful, doesn’t have the same impact that it used to. Brands, even massive, iconic brands like Guinness, have to diversify with their marketing. And that means making an impact on social media.

The brand has been quite explicit about the aims of the next few months. The idea is that, by hiring a digital agency, they will be able to ‘expand reach’ and ensure ‘online talkability’. Why is it doing this? Well, the simple answer revolves around the fact that people still associate the drink with black and white TV ad spots that won awards. It hasn’t moved away from that, arguably. But another reason is that the brand does not have a drink that young people enjoy. Or women, for that matter. These two groups do contain customers who drink the stuff, but it is by no means a key part of their market share. The answer is to hit social, and hit it well.

But they have done this before, right?

They have. The thing is, the brand has never been one to move quickly. It has (historically) liked to present itself as a goliath in the drinks industry, almost untouchable in some respects. But last year it did start to dip its toes a little further into digital. It did something that perhaps no one expected it to do. It set up a campaign on Instagram. It proved to be a shrewd move. This was the choice the brand made to help start down the road of being an online brand.

And it all started with a 60 second commercial.

Stephen O’Kelly, Marketing Director for Western Europe Guinness, qualified the move with a very clear statement praising the platform.

“Instagram has grown enormously in scale in the past 12 months and is a channel best suited for stylish and striking imagery. We believed it was the perfect medium to shine a light on the beauty of our film to a discerning audience.”

The interesting thing here is that Guinness was the first brand to upload a sixty second ad on Instagram. So they still managed to be pioneers even when they were coming to the game a little later than they should.

Instagram in 2016

Apart from the Instagram thing, the move last year was part of a ‘social first’ campaign. This simply meant that Guinness were now recognising that the younger, more digitally aware audience, were a slice of the market that needed attention. The brand actually worked directly with Instagram to get that pioneering piece created and disseminated.

The problem

For such an iconic and successful brand, Guinness had not been very visible in the social media space. For example, it doesn’t have many accounts. A big brand is often measured by the number of individual ‘country’ accounts it has. On Twitter, Guinness still only has five, while its competitors generally have over ten. Guinness was beginning to look uncomfortable, out of place on the social stage.

This new work with the digital agency means that Guinness has an opportunity now to add value to the brand, and hopefully gain a slice of the younger market. While it may be a big brand, it doesn’t have the same cross-generational impact that Budweiser, for example, has.

As you know, we are all about the data, and we took a quick look at what was going on with the Facebook profile for Guinness. It was compared with the Facebook profile of Heineken, a competitor. Heineken has over 22 million friends on Facebook, while Guinness has just over 73,000.

Guinness has an audience that is stagnant, but does have more engagement than Heineken on Facebook. It gains more likes and comments basically. But with an audience that is nowhere near as big as its competition, it needs to pull in more of a reach.

The way forward

It’s an intriguing thing, to have a brand that dominated TV advertising suddenly having to compete with brands that are firmly ensconced in social. The brand may have fewer fans than the competition, but it is doing well for engagement.

Guinness’s biggest challenge? It has to move away from the old image into a new phase. If it is any sign of this actually happening, it is pleasing to see an Instagram profile that is full of colour, brightness, with no trace of million dollar black and white ads.

What is interesting for agencies everywhere is the journey ahead for Guinness. It’s an intriguing prospect. Grand old brand carving out a new identity on social. It is putting ‘social first’, but we reckon the proof of the matter will definitely rest on how creative R/GA is.

Just as an FYI, that big Instagram ad last year we talked about earlier? It was shot in black and white.

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