OPINION: Mills on ... Guinness

Have you noticed how in those greatest film/goal/album/ad of all

time lists, the winners are invariably contemporary? Maybe that's

because the sort of people who respond to such polls have all the

perspective of a goldfish. Anyway, that's why they're always topped by

(What's the Story) Morning Glory?, Urban Hymns or Nevermind; Ryan Giggs'

winner against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final of 1999, and Guinness'

'surfer' ad, the latter as voted by Sunday Times readers and Channel 4

viewers. OK, they're good, great even. But the best of all time? I think

not. At least let's allow a decent passage of time before we instantly

canonise something or somebody. The Church has got it right. As with the

canonisation of saints - although I think it could make an exception in

the case of David Abbott - a little less haste and a little more

distance would be a good thing.

All of which brings me to 'dream club', the new Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

film for Guinness. As the successor to the greatest ad of all time, it

starts with the weight of expectation around its neck. Not with me,

however. I wasn't a huge fan.

Don't get me wrong. I thought 'surfer' was a visual tour de force, but I

didn't rate it as highly as everyone else. Partly that was because I

don't actually like Guinness and I hate the taste of salt water. So the

thought of going surfing and then having a Guinness was an anathema. I

know, I know, it sounds pathetic, but that's the power of taste

association for you. Plus I thought it was an over-extravagant way of

dramatising what is, after all, a fairly flimsy idea - you have to wait

a long time for your pint and you do a bit of male bonding in the

meantime. In a soundbite, I thought 'surfer' was a triumph of style over


Was I right? The buzz around 'surfer' was huge and it clearly had an

impact on everyone who saw it, regardless of whether they were in the

target market. But while it may have generated huge awareness among the

public at large, did it have a commensurate effect on sales? Whispers

around the industry at the time of the recent global Guinness pitch

suggest not.

Something has to explain the apparent change of direction in 'dream


Quite what the new direction is I'm not sure. The only way I can

articulate it is to say it's a step back to the latter days of the

Ogilvy era. Rutger Hauer and the Tony Kaye-directed fish-on-a-bicycle

ads were surreal, imbuing the drink with a sense of mystery and

intrigue. Compared with those, AMV's first work for Guinness -

'swimblack', 'surfer' and the justifiably forgotten Cuban snail race -

was linear and straightforward. You knew where you were with them.

'Dream club' is something else. It's so weird that it could easily be

David Lynch's follow-up to his film for PlayStation 2. A bunch of

oddballs, members of the dream club, gather. One, powered by Guinness,

sets out on his quest for the dream that will reveal the true meaning of


And that's about it, although we should reserve a special word for the

hilarious squirrels who (I think) are the alter egos of the dream club.

In time, they could do for Guinness what Flat Eric did for Levi's.

There's one other significant point to note. The ad has tons of

branding. I counted eight product shots, which is a lot for a 60-second

film and a lot more than 'surfer' - and may tell us something about the

true impact of 'surfer' on sales.

This is a joy of a film: complex, multi-layered, relevant, entertaining,

enigmatic and, above all, immensely watchable. I've seen it a dozen

times and every time there's something different to admire. I'm told

that AMV's Walter Campbell spent six months editing the film. If that's

so, every minute was worth it.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Luvs, this has got gold all over it.

Will it work? Unquestionably, especially among drugged-up students.

What would the chairman's wife say? Who cares if no-one gets it, it's

got eight product shots.

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