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Brand health check: Guinness - Guinness struggles to maintain 'surfer' cool

Guinness' sales are in decline, as is the stout market. With its latest work criticised for a lack of both coherence and the impact of its 'Surfer' ad, what must it do?

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Yesterday (Wednesday), pub-goers across the country were celebrating St Patrick's Day with a pint or two of Guinness. Or were they?

For many, the Diageo stout has failed to maintain the excitement generated by the 1999 Guinness 'Surfer' ad - voted the UK's favourite ad of all time in a Sunday Times and Channel 4 poll conducted in 2000. Last month, the drinks giant revealed sales of Guinness had fallen by 3% in the six months to December 2003.

Diageo put the dip down to decreased marketing investment in that period.

It claims that increased spend on Guinness in the six months to June 2004 will boost its performance, which was particularly bad in the on-trade.

This marketing activity began with the launch of a £6.5m TV campaign on February 24. The ad recreates the 'surge' of a pint being poured with a swirling cloud of moths and a new strapline, 'Out of darkness comes light'. Guinness marketing director Nick Robinson said the ad would "mark a new chapter in the heritage of Guinness ads".

Some feel the brand has lost its way, and with ale and stout decreasing in popularity, the change in advertising strategy may not be enough to stem a further drop in sales.

Maxxium UK marketing director Huw Pennell, a fan of previous Guinness ads who has responsibility for Abso-lut vodka and The Famous Grouse, feels the latest execution "is more attuned to a brand such as Southern Comfort or Bacardi, with its high-energy 'party' setting".

In addition, efforts to associate the brand with rugby, St Patrick's Day and 'Irishness', as well as three different straplines in as many years, have led critics to accuse Guinness of a lack of coherence in its communications.

Faced with a proliferation of rivals fighting for drinkers' attention, has Guinness lost its cool? We asked Peter Jackson, marketing director of Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries, and Patrick Smith, chief executive of brand consultancy Enterprise IG, whose clients include Scottish Courage.

VITAL SIGNS

Top brands by volume (million litres)

Brand Year to Year to Change

Nov 2003 Nov 2002 (%)

Carling 624.7 572.7 9.1

Foster's 473.2 453.2 4.4

Stella Artois 456.4 396.1 15.2

Carlsberg 312.2 260.5 19.9

Guiness 222.2 228.2 -2.6

Source: ACNielsen

DIAGNOSIS

Peter Jackson

The latest Guinness campaign shows all the hallmarks of its previous successful work: high production values (and no doubt costs), intrigue and exceptional standout. Whether it will be as successful remains to be seen. The ad certainly maintains the premium credentials of the brand and remains true to its core values.

Guinness occupies a unique place in the UK beer market; strip out the duty costs and it delivers the best financial return of any brand. Maintaining this premium element is more valuable to the brand (and Diageo) than a rapid expansion of volume driven by price activity.

Short-term volume loss shouldn't be seen as a predictor of a long-term problem. Guinness has always bucked the trend of the movement away from darker beers. It is the default brand of most repertoire drinkers and its virtual saturation distribution in the on- and off-trade is unique.

It should be ideally placed for an upturn in interest in flavoursome beers.

Extra Cold hastened the loss of distribution (and volume) of its competitors, Murphy's and Beamish, and gave it on-bar standout. It has also made the brand more approachable for younger drinkers.

Patrick Smith

Guinness, the pint, is in a tricky area at the moment. In its heyday in the late-90s it was considered the ultimate lads' beer experience.

It said you were cool, discerning and had the time to wait for the good things in life.

Where it has always struggled is on refreshment and, more recently, immediacy.

The trend is for lads to session-drink, which plays into the hands of the lagers rather than the stouts. Guinness is a great beer, but is too big to be a session beer. It may have had a go at refreshment with Guinness Extra Cold, but is it sufficiently different to make an impact?

Guinness is also operating in an Atkins world where low-carb lagers are stealing the market with punters who would prefer a six-pack, rather than a beer belly. This, too, may be working against it.

I also struggle when I think of Guinness' latest communications. Its history is packed with great ads, but when I think of the current campaign I just think of the tough Italian guy in a swimming race. I am not sure how much cut-through it is achieving nor how it links to the very successful campaign it did around the Rugby World Cup.

TREATMENT

- Maintain focus on premium values and stay true to core values. Irishness doesn't have to be overt, but should not be ignored.

- Use below-the-line activity to increase penetration on additional occasions in pubs and bars, and in the off-trade.

- Engage drinkers through loyalty schemes and relationship marketing and maintain interest with innovative packaging and dispensers.

- Reinvestigate the Guinness experience. The 'pour' is great for discerning drinkers, but not for the session man.

- Address the health issue. Remember 'Guinness is good for you', packed with iron and vitamins? Remind people of this.

- Start segmenting the brand with a low-carb alternative. What about a relevant contemporary bottled version?

This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk

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