Kerry Foods' Nick Robinson: what I learned from making classic Guinness ad Swimblack
A view from Nick Robinson

Kerry Foods' Nick Robinson: what I learned from making classic Guinness ad Swimblack

The 1998 Guinness spot Swimblack wasn't just a classic piece of work, but a sharp lesson in how to be an effective marketer, writes Kerry Foods' chief marketing officer.

Learn from great leaders and great experiences

I worked on the Guinness Swimblack advertising campaign 20 years ago when I was at Diageo as a brand manager. It was the first advertising project I worked on and the first in the "Good things come to those who wait" campaign created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO.

I was lucky enough to have John Hosking and Andy Fennell (who later became chief marketing officers of Diageo) as my two bosses. You need to have good people who are prepared to invest time in you early in your career, to guide you through the process, to enable you to learn.

It’s a principle I’ve brought with me to my brand teams working across Kerry Foods; the recent relaunch of Fridge Raiders was an example of this with the team working with Bloom on design and positioning and Saatchi & Saatchi on creative.

The clarity of a compelling idea

Guinness had been looking for a new campaign hook and came up with "Good things come to those who wait". It’s an enduring, memorable and simple idea based on a product truth: the two-part Guinness pour and the anticipation of waiting for the drink. Some people perceived this wait as a negative but the campaign turned this around.

We effectively told the story of a man in Italy who every year, races against the pouring of a perfect pint of Guinness, becoming a village hero in his community. It was a compelling idea - not just for this one ad but for the others that followed.


Surround yourself with the best people you can afford

We were lucky enough to have Jonathan Glazer as our director on the Swimblack film, who has since gone on to Hollywood and bigger and greater things.

Alongside him was the team at AMV BBDO at the time, Tom Carty and Walter Campbell, the creative geniuses behind the ad. We paid for the quality we got at the time, which made the ad and film truly special.

Trust your agency…

When we travelled to Italy to shoot the ad, AMV BBDO  still hadn’t cast the main, lead character, which was pretty unusual.

The creative team had a vision of what they were looking for and they found him on a beach in Italy only days before. He was not an actor but the exact personification of a strong, older man - who they believed would the best person to represent the brand.

There were back-ups in place but there was a strong belief in the agency team that they knew in their mind how this ad would come to life. We demonstrated trust in our agency at the right time and got some fantastic results.

… and your gut

Guinness had just moved the business into AMV BBDO (from Ogilvy & Mather) and this was the first ad from the agency, so it was a big deal for all parties involved. A new relationship does require trust and judgment; you have to hold your nerve and believe that the creative team is going to find the right person to realise their ambition.

You have to trust your gut. In this instance, Guinness wanted to appeal to younger drinkers and research would have said, if you want to tap into this demographic, have a younger person in the ad that they can relate to, cast a person who is credible in their eyes.

We cast an older, 70-year old in the main role – a powerful image, but not representative of the person Guinness wanted to appeal to. He was so inspirational, however, that the ad appealed strongly to our target audience. It taught me about the power that the right casting can bring, about what is appealing and aspirational to your customers.

Practice makes perfect

If you are starting out as a marketer, the only way to learn about working with agencies and creating the best campaigns is through practice.

You have to expose teams to this process as much as possible - like anything in life, if you practice, learn and develop, you will make better ads with agencies. Send brand managers who are starting out to shoots so they have a full appreciation of the process - it’s not enough to just have the senior members of the team there. At Kerry Foods on our brands we look to become a little better every day.   

Nick Robinson is chief marketing officer at Kerry Foods and a member of Campaign’s Power 100.