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History of Guinness Posters and Guinness Advertising

December 19, 2017

If you have ever ventured into in an Irish pub or a college dorm, you know those vintage Guinness posters: An ostrich and a zookeeper (“My Goodness My Guinness”), or a toucan holding a glass up on its beak (“Lovely day for a Guinness”). Replica Guinness posters and tin signs are today a thriving market in their own right.

This all was the point. During the 20th century, Guinness’ aim was to differentiate itself from other beers through advertising and image management. The brand strategy was a great success. Along with college students’ dorm-wall votes of approval, you can find Guinness draft handles today featuring a toucan on top.

The now-famous Guinness posters were mostly the creation of illustrator John Gilroy — and his copywriters. Gilroy worked as an illustrator for the advertising company Benson’s in 1928, when the company won the contract for Guinness. The beer’s sales had been sluggish, and new chairman Rupert Guinness sought to use advertising as a way of driving sales.

Gilroy’s first campaign premiered in 1930 — “Guinness Is Good For You” — and quickly found success. Shortly after, Gilroy conceptualized the zookeeper character and his mischief-making, Guinness-thieving animals in the “My Goodness My Guinness” campaigns. Guinness really began to solidify its brand after the war via radio and television spots. By 1950, five million Guinnesses were selling every day, an increase of 150% from the year before Gilroy’s poster campaigns. Up through the 1960s, Gilroy created at least 50 more poster designs for Guinness, taking on the work as a freelancer after leaving Benson’s.

By the 1980s, Guinness had found that its posters and advertisements were now fully embedded in the beer drinkers’ collective consciousness and had attained something of a cult status. Guinness posters were replicated and found their ways onto the walls of the thousands of Irish pubs worldwide. The popularity and ubiquity of the Irish pub delivered massive audiences across the globe to these vintage poster designs. That the artwork was classically wonderful helped, too.

Guinness has since branched into further creative advertising campaigns. One famous example is a television spot called “Anticipation” that features a bar customer doing a crazy dance while waiting for the bartender to pour his Guinness (please be patient, customers; the thing has to settle). And 2010 introduced the planet to the campaign phrase “To Arthur!” Raise your pints!

Today, Guinness sells more than 10 million pints per day. Those vintage Guinness posters have found their own cult following. While replicas sale very well online, the originals bring in top dollar from collectors. And for his artwork — including but also going well beyond his work for Guinness — John Gilroy was awarded an honorary Masters of Arts from Newcastle University in 1975 and appointed Freeman of the City of London in 1981.

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