Guinness is a brand known for its inventive, playful, and bold advertising. All you need to do is look through the chapters of Guinness’ advertising history to see the colourful ways in which Guinness has carved out its unique identity across the years. Few ads in the Guinness repertoire are as iconic as the Guinness Toucan. How exactly did an exotic animal native to the tropics become a mascot for the Irish stout?
In 1928, the advertising agency, SH Benson secured the Guinness account. A young up and coming artist, John Gilroy, quickly became the lead creative working on Guinness. He would go on to design two of the most iconic campaigns which would help to define the brand for years to come. The first of these was called Guinness for Strength and featured a range of impressive feats accomplished by people ‘powered’ by Guinness. Perhaps none of these is as instantly recognizable as the ‘Girder poster’ seen below.
The Guinness for Strength campaign was a massive success. But even so, for a campaign roughly around the same time, Guinness sought a different approach. Gilroy was tasked to come up with a campaign that could more easily travel across demographics and reach out to an even larger audience. The story goes that after a night out at the circus, Gilroy was struck by a wave of inspiration and the second of his best-loved campaigns was born.
Gilroy began a series of designs incorporating exotic zoo animals into playful and bold posters. The first of these was launched in May 1935 with a poster showing a mischievous sea-lion running away from its keeper with a glass of Guinness perched on its nose. With the memorable catchphrases “My Goodness, My Guinness” and “It’s a Lovely Day for a Guinness”, a true menagerie of animals featured on poster designs, from sealions to turtles and ostriches. Few however proved as popular as the Toucan which made its debut in Autumn 1935. The Toucan was so successful that it returned on a new range of posters in 1953 and again in the 1980s for a series of humorous television commercials.
The Toucan was immensely popular with the public. Today, it can still be seen on iconic memorabilia such as coasters, t-shirts, and re-prints; a testament to the lasting imprint Gilroy’s whimsical, distinctive bird created for the brand.
When asked in 1952 about the secret of his Guinness advertising campaign’s success, Gilroy said: “I love poster work and I am conscious of the poster artist’s great responsibilities. The hoardings are the Museum of the Masses. They hoard the art treasures of the man-in-the-street. But the man-in-the-street is usually in a hurry to catch a bus or to avoid being caught by a bus: he has no time for contemplation. My posters are, therefore, a kind of aesthetic meal-in-a-minute”.
At the Guinness Storehouse you can journey through the history of Guinness advertising. As part of your experience in one of Dublin’s best tourist attractions discover the story behind the brand's unique advertising campaigns.
‘These adverts may contain historical product claims that are not now endorsed by Diageo. In making these adverts available, the intention is not to promote the benefits of drinking, but to show Guinness advertising more than 70 years ago.’