Close-Up: Live Issue - Guinness takes on challenge of targeting younger drinkers

The stout's latest ad 'moth' aims to contemporise the brand.

Take 500,000 computer-generated moths and a Brazilian rainforest, add a swinging jungle beat, three lost friends and a twist of Irish storytelling and you have the latest ad from Guinness.

"Moth", which broke at the beginning of March and is the first execution to carry the new strapline "out of darkness comes light", has many of the ingredients you'd expect to find in a Guinness ad - high production values and visual drama that consumers have come to expect from the brand.

The campaign, created by Nick Worthington and Paul Brazier and directed by Academy's Walter Stern, undoubtedly knows where it has come from in terms of its heritage and prestige.

But anyone hoping "moth" would mark a swift return to the heady success enjoyed by "surfer" will be disappointed.

Emulating the popularity of one of the UK's favourite ads is not easy as consumers come to expect bigger and better every time. The first "believe" execution, showing a hurling match in Ireland, met with a lukewarm reception, and although consumers' response to "moth" has yet to be gauged, there is little danger it will steal the glory from "surfer".

Once again, the storyline and imagery of the ad relates directly to the product, but in distinction to its predecessors, the ad has been designed to appeal to a younger audience.

The strategy, according to Mark Petersen, a board account director at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, is to steer perceptions of the brand away from the time-honoured image of an old man wearing a flat cap sitting in the corner with his pint.

This has been Guinness' intention for many years now, using advertising that appeals to all age groups. The new work, however, directly targets a youth audience by featuring young adults off to enjoy a drink in a Latin bar.

"This time we're appealing to potential Guinness drinkers," Petersen says. "But if we have done a good job, then it will appeal to existing Guinness drinkers too.

"Guinness is undergoing quite a challenge at the moment in the market due to the development of the lager market, where the growth is coming from drinkers who are 35 and below."

Updating and modernising Guinness' image is critical if it is to attract younger drinkers.

But rather than adopt a complete change in tack and force the brand to pretend to be something it's not, Guinness has chosen to contemporise its brand and express its existing core values in a manner that it believes will appeal to the younger sector.

Under-35s account for 50 per cent of Guinness sales, and it is through these consumers that the brand's parent company, Diageo, hopes to revive sales, after seeing a dip in market share.

After two years without any signs of growth, the UK figures for the six months leading up to the end of 2003 were down 3 per cent by volume year on year.

The past ten years have been dedicated to popularising the stout by attempting to make it a session drink that is more accessible to more people.

To this end, Guinness has introduced more brand extensions than any other drink within the Diageo stable. Consumers now have the choice of Guinness Extra Cold, Guinness draught in bottles or cans and Guinness Extra Stout.

But even the arrival of the Extra Cold variant - which is dispensed at five degrees lower than the traditional version in order to numb the taste buds slightly, thus making it more palatable - has failed to fend off the increasing competition.

The ten best-selling beer brands are all now lagers; the most popular ale or stout, Guinness draught, plummeted from fifth to 11th in the chart last year.

On its side in the fight is Guinness' reputation for pushing its advertising agency to the limits in order to achieve its objectives.

Indeed, AMV was rumoured to have come up with 200 creative ideas before settling on the replacement for "believe", an excruciating process which narrowly avoided ending in a review.

Alex Aves, the Guinness UK marketing manager, says: "The risk of disappointment is huge, so we have done a lot of work to understand what makes a great Guinness ad.

"We have a history of making ads that drinkers really enjoy. In 'believe' we took a characteristic of our drinkers - inner strength - and brought it to life. In 'out of darkness comes light' we wanted to take a particular element of inner strength and bring it alive.

"Being true to yourself, that's what takes inner strength. And the ad celebrates the fact that drinkers are very happy to be themselves."

The pressure is on, and Guinness is pulling out all the stops. Accordingly, the spend for "out of darkness comes light" is a whopping £6 million over the first three months alone, trumping the previous investment behind ads including "surfer" and "swimblack".

And although TV remains the preferred advertising medium, in a media strategy devised by Carat, Guinness is also endorsing Saint Patrick's Day and next month's Cheltenham Festival horse-racing event in a bid to drive brand loyalty.

With "moth" heading up the push, Diageo hopes to open a new chapter in the history of Guinness advertising.

It needs to, if it is going to succeed in its bid to attract a younger set of drinkers.

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