CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/GUINNESS - AMV and Saatchis prepare to meet over Guinness. With a new roster, Guinness is catering to its contrasting global appeal

For millions of British TV viewers, Guinness is personified by the surfers - men as obsessed with pitting themselves against the forces of nature as Captain Ahab was about avenging himself on the Great White Whale.

For millions of British TV viewers, Guinness is personified by the surfers - men as obsessed with pitting themselves against the forces of nature as Captain Ahab was about avenging himself on the Great White Whale.

In Africa, its manifestation is Michael Power, a sub-James Bond adventurer who parachutes off cliffs, stages daring escapes and always gets the girl. And you can bet he's never heard of Herman Melville!

Power was introduced by Saatchi & Saatchi when the agency took over the Guinness African assignment from a number of local network shops two years ago.

Today, the black all-action hero stars in a series of five-minute episodes which, in some countries desperate for TV programming, get free airtime.

'Flashy it may be but don't knock it,' a former Guinness sen- ior manager cautions. 'Africa is big business.'

How you consume your Guinness advertising depends a lot on how close you live to the equator. It's not just a question of sophistication - or lack of it - but a legacy of the past. And it explains a lot about why Guinness has taken the seemingly surprise decision to divide its pounds 50 million global creative account between Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and Saatchis.

The two roster agencies had been contesting what was expected to be a 'winner-takes-all' pitch. Competing agencies, though, say they were told not to assume there was to be a single global campaign. Now, Jon Potter, the Guinness global brands director, has confirmed that he is happy to foresake global uniformity or neatness in the cause of the best and most appropriate creativity.

Doubtless, such flexibility is partly prompted by some ominous straws in the wind. Guinness suffers the perpetual problem of attracting younger drinkers. In its Irish home market, sales have been in decline, exacerbated by the arrival of a more cosmopolitan generation of young people who are consciously rejecting the drink of their fathers.

A similar situation persists in the UK where AMV's much-decorated advertising has, according to its critics, given Guinness an awareness it doesn't need without generating the extra sales it most certainly does. What's more, the brand has the Whitbread-owned Murphy's snapping at its heels.

'If Guinness is to be successful, it's got to stop being precious about the past,' a source close to the company claims. 'Its advertising heritage weighs too heavily on it and needs to be consigned to history.'

Outside Europe, however, Guinness advertising carries no historical baggage, reflecting the big differences in the way its brew is perceived across the world. These differences appear to have been the major factor persuading the Diageo-owned operation to adopt a horses for courses approach.

Thus AMV, the producer of the 'surfers' film, as well as the exotic and eccentric Cuban snail race in the 'bet on black' commercial, will be asked to extend its UK assignment to the similarly refined markets of Europe and the US. Meanwhile, Saatchis, which has a far greater African presence than BBDO, has had its remit expanded to include the Far East.

Guinness may not have opted for a single network but it has certainly pared down its roster significantly. The company has dropped Weiss Stagliano & Partners and Frohling Werbeagentur, its US and German agencies respectively.

They have been axed along with HHCL & Partners, which handled Guinness in Ireland, and Ogilvy & Mather, whose 15-year relationship with the brand came to an end when it was relieved of the business in Singapore and Malaysia.

For Saatchis, the extra Guinness assignment comes as an unex-pected bonus. 'We were gobsmacked,' a senior executive says. 'We knew Guinness had been impressed by our work in Africa but we never thought it would put AMV's work under review.'

The contrasting character of the brand in different parts of the world, notably the African market, is a throwback to the earliest days of Empire.

As Britain set out to turn the world map pink, so Guinness, now almost 250 years old, was perfectly positioned to turn it black.

The reason was that their product travelled so well. It could be brewed in Dublin, put aboard a sailing ship and emerge in a perfectly drinkable state several weeks later. Long before rivals began appearing in the old colonial outposts, the Guinness brand was already firmly established.

Over the years, Guinness's split personality - a premium up-market product in Western Europe and the US, a powerfully brewed mass-market brand in Africa - led to lots of fragmentation in its marketing and brand development.

The global business was split between a plethora of local agencies, including an Irish shop which, for emotional rather than logical reasons, always ran the domestic account. Peter Mitchell, the former worldwide brand director, remembers arriving at the company to find that up to 80 per cent of new product development work around the world was being duplicated.

Gradually, guardianship of the brand was vested with the O&M network, which was charged with co-ordinating global advertising which might vary creatively but not strategically. So if it worked once before, why not again?

'This certainly would not have been an arbitrary decision and there are some very good reasons for reaching it,' Mitchell says.

The consensus is that, managed well, the dual network arrangement can result in outstanding advertising born of a healthy competitiveness. Managed badly, it can fall victim to mutual distrust and internecine warfare.

Mitchell believes that the key to success will lie with a small group of worldwide brand guardians with feet in both agency camps. 'Without such a group, the danger of the strategy running off in different directions is very real,' he warns.

'Guinness has to ensure that the whole thing doesn't degenerate into a silly competition but at the same time must harness that competitiveness to give the advertising a real cutting edge.'

Above all, there must be no Chinese walls, he adds, and no-thing that will prevent the best creative ideas flowing from one network to the other. Don't expect to see Michael Power on a surfboard though.