Michael Baulk, the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO chief executive, is
pretend steely down the phone. ’We don’t like it Stefano, we don’t like
it at all. We want it back. We’re going to get it back.’ I’d called last
Friday to discuss Guinness, just after we’d heard Abbott Mead had
He wanted to talk about the Agency of the Year prize. Come to think of
it, I’m not so sure about ’pretend’.
There are account wins and there’s landing Guinness. Forget the pounds
12 million billing, we all know it’s worth more than cash. We all know
most agencies would swap many new-business gains with larger billings
The Ogilvy & Mather executive I spoke to that same afternoon sounded
It’s not just the pounds 1 million-plus worth of income (I didn’t speak
to Martin Sorrell!) - Argos, for example, actually bills a little more.
O&M would be upset and annoyed but not suicidal about losing Argos.
Guinness is not just an advertising icon, in Brit-ain it is the
advertising icon. Any student of advertising would have to conclude that
it has been the most consistently excellent advertiser of the century.
Despite the inevitable highs and lows -the black-and-white campaign
probably does not rank among the very best of an incredibly high
standard - it is arguably the brand of the century.
Canary Wharfers may beg to differ, but win Guinness and you inherit a
laudably faithful client. Abbott Mead becomes only the fifth agency
(after O&M, J. Walter Thompson, Allen Brady & Marsh and S. H. Benson) to
win the account since the first ad in 1928.
The work, once humorous, has been over the past two decades consistently
challenging, off-the-wall and enigmatic. This reflects both the
tightening up of advertising regulations (so no more ’Guinness is good
for you’, ’Guinness for strength’ or ’You’ll feel fresher when you’ve
had a Guinness’) and the nature of the product itself. Guinness will
never be to everyone’s taste. How many other clients spending pounds 12
million on a brand give their agencies the freedom to create such
high-profile, audacious work, knowing it will not appeal to
As I wrote when the review was announced, the irony is that Guinness’s
sales are at a record high. But that does not appear to be enough for
the client, which clearly feels the recent advertising has not been the
catalyst for this success. It proves that, with such a golden history,
there is a burden of expectation on Guinness work. Not that this will
overly worry the agency that wins it. While we must hope this major
setback does not derail O&M from the excellent all-round improvements it
has been making to its creative output, you can be sure that Guinness
(and probably British Digital Broadcasting) will make Abbott Mead once
again this year’s agency to beat.