Guinness' advert, Surfer
Guinness' advert, Surfer
A view from Heather Andrew

Guinness 'Surfers' vs BrewDog's spoof: which ad won the neuroscience stakes?

As St Patrick's Day approaches and consumers look forward to supping a pint of stout, Heather Andrew, UK CEO of Neuro-Insight, neuro-researched BrewDog's Guinness 'Surfers' spoof against the original ad to see whether the parody could trump the iconic ad for positive brand associations.

In order to launch craft stout Jet Black Heart, BrewDog recently posted its take on the most famous stout beer ad in the market – Guinness’ iconic surfer ad. Parody advertising is a bold strategy but there is a serious message expressed in the BrewDog ad which is that the craft brewer’s approach to brewing is to invest in the product, not the advertising. As result the spot features a pantomime horse and a wave machine rather than the CGI stylings of its inspiration.

While the ad highlights BrewDog’s strong stance against the brewing establishment, does its parody strategy stand up from the brain’s perspective?

Marketers are increasingly using neuroscience to assess the effectiveness of their creative, so Neuro-Insight neuro-researched BrewDog’s parody clip against Guinness’ Surfer ad, in order to measure the strength of viewers’ memory encoding and the balance of their positive or negative emotional responses for each ad.

The findings indicate when the brain is most active throughout the ads, and whether the memories stored about the creative are positive or negative ones. So, did BrewDog’s parody trump ‘Surfer’ for well-encoded, positive brand associations?

Emotional response

When it comes to the positive associations, the clearest difference between the two ads is of the overall feel of the creative: typically for a parody, BrewDog’s clip is lighthearted and shows many peaks of positive emotional response. By contrast, the dark imagery, ominous soundtrack and implied danger of ‘Surfer’ trigger negative emotional response throughout the spot.

However, the mood of ‘Surfer’ is offset at the very end, where a significant lift in positive response is registered when the Guinness pint appears for the final branding moment. Crucially, from the brain’s perspective, this lift in emotional response coincides with high memory encoding, ensuring that the Guinness brand is registered alongside a positive sentiment.

Verdict: Draw: BrewDog’s parody ad is well-liked but "Surfer" triggers the brain’s positive response at the crucial branding moment.

Jet Black Heart - #BeerNotAds from BrewDog (Since writing this article, BrewDog has removed the full video)

Memory encoding

Producing a parody is not always enough to set a brand apart from the butt of its joke

When it comes to communicating key messages, BrewDog’s clip showed two high points of memory encoding, one at the final branding moment, and one mid-way through the ad. This was a strong peak of right brain response as the soundtrack (taken from the Guinness ad) is introduced, indicating that people are linking this event back to something already stored in their brains.

This needn’t be a bad thing in itself, but when we correlated our neuro-research with an exit survey for both ads, we saw that while BrewDog did register well with viewers, Guinness’ brand was much more widely recognised.

This reflects the challenge facing new brands: our brains don’t have as many existing associations to what the brand means or is symbolised by, so an advertiser can’t rely on those cues to get the branding across. Instead, the brand name has to be overtly communicated.

BrewDog does a pretty good job of this, featuring the bottle and brand name at several points in the ad but it’s a tougher challenge than for Guinness, whose branding is conveyed with every foamy black and white image featured.

Verdict: Hit for Guinness’ Surfer ad - despite BrewDog’s valiant and amusing parody Guinness emerged as the more memorable brand.

Conclusion

The performance of the two ads is a nice illustration of the dilemma of parody ads: how do you use an idea that is well-known enough to be recognisable, but still make it your own?

Producing a parody is not always enough to set a brand apart from the butt of its joke. Even if the viewer knows rationally that he or she is watching a spoof, the piece may still have the effect of bringing to mind the original brand unless the 'spoofing' brand is really well communicated.

Ironically, while BrewDog has benefited from a film that parodies Guinness, they may to some extent also have helped recall of the Guinness brand itself.

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