IRELAND: TURNING GUINNESS INTO GOLD - Sales of Guinness are dwindling in its home country, so the brand has changed its agency arrangements in a bid to reverse the trend. Camilla Palmer reports

Think of Coke, think of America. Think of Pimm's, think of England.

Think of Guinness, think of Ireland. The stout brand is so firmly

engaged in the Irish culture that even its manufacturer, Diageo,

concedes it's just "looking after it" for the people of Ireland. The

company has always handled the advertising separately, stating the

market differences and the need to lead from the brand's birthplace as

the reasons why.



HHCL & Partners was hired in 1996 to take over from Ogilvy & Mather

after worries that the brand was "vulnerable" in the long term. Magic

was needed to take Guinness forward, and HHCL's work with Britvic's

Tango was one of the swaying factors as it demonstrated its ability to

communicate with the youth market that Guinness was so desperate to

reach.



Five years on, and the picture looks set to change. In the move to

consolidate its global ad account into two networks last year, Saatchi &

Saatchi and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Guinness took the step of axing

HHCL from the roster.



The move to consolidate came following claims that HHCL had failed to

stop the decline of Guinness drinking in Ireland. Did you know that

Ireland is now Guinness' second-biggest market after Spain?



Diageo reported declining sales of the brand at its yearly results in

September 2000 to the tune of 4 per cent. It was the first fall in the

241 years since the brand's daddy, Arthur Guinness, took a £9,000

lease on a brewery in Dublin and started making beer. This year, sales

of Guinness are down by a further 3 per cent.



The initial intention to find a single network to handle the business

across all markets was abandoned, and the review means BBDO will still

work on UK, European and US business, while Saatchis deals with Africa

and the Far East. The picture painted is of plenty of hand-holding

between the networks, but three's a crowd and there's no room for

HHCL.



But although officially serving its notice period, HHCL is still

churning out work, and says it will continue to do so until the account

officially moves to the Dublin-based Irish International. HHCL will not

comment on the loss, but those close to the account are said to be

disappointed when "there's so much going right in Ireland".



HHCL's latest work is as quirky as AMV's "dream club" spots which ran in

the UK. HHCL's ads feature the dub reggae star Lee Scratch Perry

extolling the virtues of Guinness Extra Cold to a purely Irish audience.

Seen dancing in customary flamboyant manner, he delivers lines such as:

"I say to you, have Guinness Extra Cold and be happy. And God bless."

The strapline for the ads is: "Guinness Extra Cold - it's a few degrees

out."



According to UDV Guinness Ireland's marketing director, Steve Langan,

the appointment of two global agencies, one of which will handle its

precious Irish market, does not herald the creation of a global ad

campaign. He says: "We believe we can get bigger and better ideas from a

global network, but there's a difference between having a consistent

branding message and having uniform advertising around the world. HHCL

couldn't deliver the global presence we want."



But he also stresses that, although Irish International is part of the

BBDO network, the work it produces is crucial in taking the brand

forward in the eyes of perhaps its most critical consumers: "Consumers

really believe they 'own' the Guinness brand in Ireland. And when you

think about the brand's share of the market - one out of two pints sold

are Guinness - then the reasons behind the intensity of activity become

apparent."



The company rolls out dozens of ambient campaigns, TV spots and

posters.



Langan says the UK market is fundamentally different: "There, Guinness

is one pint in 20. There's a massive opportunity to increase that share,

but we need to take a different approach."



He cites three main challenges for Guinness in Ireland: "We need to get

younger consumers to reappraise the drink - the reason behind launching

draft Guinness in a bottle, and the Extra Cold line. Second, we have to

reassure older consumers that the drink is still theirs too. And we have

to make sure it retains a relevance to Irish consumers."



So what's the logic in applying a global ad strategy to a market which

is so strikingly fragmented? Langan says the point in running the

account through a worldwide network is so that the brand can tap the

enormous creative reserves and leverage capabilities, while using local

shops to roll out local campaigns.



"We want a global idea, in the same way that Nike has made 'Just do it'

its own. The best way to do this is by using the two networks to come

together to develop that, while using their expertise in their

territories to develop that idea so it works on a local level," he

says.



All well and good. But while Guinness ads in the UK, Ireland and

European markets are renowned for their impact on consumers and

big-budget ethos, the Saatchis-made ads in the African market feature a

gung-ho hero performing feats of daring matched only by James Bond.

Surely it will be difficult to axe market-specific ideas to focus on one

big one?



Langan counters: "Finding an ad to suit all markets would be unrealistic

- but a global idea is different."



So watch out for the boys with the black stuff telling you to "Just

drink it".



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