How Guinness made waves with ‘Surfer’

Posted on by Guy Cookson

‘Surfer’ by AMV BBDO for Guinness (1999)

In 1997 the ad agency AMV BBDO entered a pitch for the Guinness advertising account, which they hoped to win from the incumbent agency Ogilvy & Mather.

It was not certain they would be successful. Ogilvy & Mather had produced some great work, including ‘The man with the Guinness’ series of ads featuring Rutger Hauer.

But sales were flat and a decision was made to try and better communicate the essence of what made Guinness special – or what is known in the industry as the “brand truth.”

And so a handful of agencies were invited to pitch. The team at AMV BBDO presented an idea that focused on the fact that pouring a Guinness takes time and patience.

To convey this they chose a brilliantly effective strapline: ‘Good things come to those who wait’.

They also presented a series of ideas for potential ad campaigns. One of which was a mocked-up poster of a surfer sitting on a beach waiting for the perfect wave.

They won the work, and the surfer concept became the centrepiece of the campaign.

The breakthrough came after one of the creatives saw Walter Crane’s dreamlike painting from 1892 called ‘Neptune’s Horses’, which depicts a group of powerful stallions atop crashing waves under the god Neptune’s command.

The finished Guinness Surfer campaign, released in 1999, ended up costing more than £1m, and is now regarded as one of the greatest commercials of all time.

More importantly, from Guinness’s perspective, it boosted brand awareness and sales significantly.

One of the creators of the campaign, Andy Fennell, recently explained why he thought the campaign had been so successful.

“The agency had a really good idea and then we all just protected that idea until the public had a chance to see it,” said Fennell. “So often ideas get diluted down because people are worried about what the public will think. It didn’t do that well in research, actually. But we ignored the research.”

“There was quite a few times when we could have made easier choices and we didn’t. Surfer was a special moment when all the stars aligned and it just worked.”

‘Surfer’ by AMV BBDO for Guinness (1999)

‘Neptune’s Horses’ by Walter Crane (1892)

This post was also published in the Lancashire Post, Lancaster Guardian and Blackpool Gazette.

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