OPINION: Mills on ... Murphy's

You've got to hand it to Guinness. Over the years, it has effortlessly seen off a variety of challengers in the stout market. Way back when was a brand called Mackeson, which seemed to position itself as a pick-me-up for grannies with osteoporosis with the line: "It looks good, it tastes good and by golly it does you good." Those were the days, eh?

Then there was Beamish, which, apart from sponsoring Inspector Morse, did some atmospheric radio ads featuring Donald Sutherland in his best "ah begorrah, 'tis the Blarney Stone" Hollywood cod-Oirish accent. If playing the Irish card was what it was about, then it should have been called O'Beamish. And since the mid-90s, Murphy's has tried to nip at Guinness' heels with a variety of campaigns from Bartle Bogle Hegarty, to no avail.

You can see the Guinness effect most clearly in the MMS Nielsen figures for the past 12 months where, under the stouts category, no rivals are listed. And I'm not surprised. In every facet of its business, from distribution to product development to advertising and marketing, Guinness has proved itself unassailable. Conclusion: the others have given up.

Until now, that is, for this month sees the return of Murphy's, now part of the Interbrew stable. From Interbrew's point of view, a further attack on Guinness is undoubtedly worth, if you'll pardon the pun, a punt. First, because in nearly every product category there's room for a second player.

So why should Guinness have stout to itself? Second, because in the context of Interbrew's portfolio, a successful Murphy's is highly unlikely to cannibalise sister brands such as Stella Artois, Boddington's and Rolling Rock. And third, because, at last, Murphy's has something interesting to say - at least something other than "we're not Guinness".

And that something - the fact that thanks to some super new widget thing, a pint of Murphy's takes only 25 seconds to pour - is not only a genuine product benefit in its own right, but also strikes right at the heart of the Guinness proposition.

The ad features bored skeletons hanging round a bar. One taps his fingers, one picks his teeth with a dart, others play pool. The charm is in the detail: a skeleton vainly trying to flick peanuts into his mouth; his friend idly flipping a beermat; a third crumbling when a skeleton dog gnaws away at his ankle.

But the point of the ad, summed up in the endline "Why wait?", is devastatingly simple: you can get bored to death waiting the required 119 seconds for a proper pint of Guinness. As attacks go, it's all the more aggressive because the whole Guinness proposition lies in that 119-second pour time.

It's not just what its advertising is about, it's what it celebrates.

On one level, a knocking ad such as this might be considered risky. After all, it suggests Guinness has made suckers out of everybody who's bought the "it's good to wait" line. But challenger brands can always get away with a knocking ad more easily than dominant ones and, anyway, by committing itself so wholeheartedly to the "waiting" idea, Guinness has not only exposed its weakness to an attack, but denied itself the opportunity to respond in kind.

I have a personal prejudice against stout, although I'm not sure whether it's because I don't like the stuff or because of the Guinness "bore" factor: the kinds of blokes who wish they were Irish and drone on endlessly about "black velvet", purity, 119-second waits and the magical properties of some tributary of the Liffey. At last: an ad that exposes them for the posers they really are. Me, I'll try a swift half of Murphy's.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Yes please.

File under ... M for mischievous.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Gosh, I expect that will make

Guinness bitter."

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