Guinness bets on gentleman preferring blondes

October 6, 2014
4 min read

Simply put: Guinness is no longer cool. Guinness lovers will remember its heyday during the 1980s and 1990s when its advertising made it a beer that young, trendsetters wanted to be seen with. However, it has been overtaken by the rise of trendier craft beers in Western markets, with 44% of Brits stating that the unique nature of craft beer appeals to them and 35% stating that craft beers are worth paying more for. In comparison to craft beer, a champion of authenticity and artisanship, Guinness’ big production adverts suddenly seemed overly abstract and disconnected from the product. As well as this, Western consumers are seeking lighter, more refreshing drinks. In contrast, Guinness is known for and it’s entire reputation is based on being “the black stuff.”

Craft Beer: The Solution?

In response to its decline Guinness has launched two new craft-style brand extensions into the UK and Ireland. Both tap into Guinness’ rich history…

Dublin Porter
Dublin Porter

Dublin Porter a 3.8% ABV beer is ‘designed to appeal to a broader market of seasoned beer drinkers looking for a more characterful beer.

Guinness’ West Indies Porter is characterised as a complex beer for the ‘slightly more discerning consumer’ with ‘lingering notes of toffee.’

Dublin Porter
Guinness’ West Indies Porter

The bottles deviate from the classic Guinness style- with a deliberately traditional and artisan feel – while the beer talks of its Porter rather than Stout credentials – a big shift for the brand in its UK and Irish communication. Porter is seeing something of a revival with many micro-brewers including it in their repertoire.

Better in America?

Guinness also has space to play in the craft arena in the US. Craft beer is rising in popularity in the US, with almost a quarter (23%) of consumers drinking it, this rises to 29% of American men. 50% of US consumers drink craft beer as a personal reward or as a treat, highlighting the interest and excitement around the product.

Guinness Blonde
Guinness Blonde

Guinness Blonde American Lager deviates from the traditional recipe by using 100% American hops.

Moving into craft territory makes sense in Western markets if Guinness is to become trendy again. The brand has plenty of history, craft and authenticity to tap into and while some argue tha big brands cannot play in this space, there is no compelling consumer data to support this. Only a third (32%) of US craft beer drinkers believe big brewers are not capable of producing good quality craft beer.

Will it work?

The execution of this craft strategy is less than convincing. In the UK and Ireland, the Porter style remains nice and off-putting, even to many craft beer drinkers, while the artisan-style bottles arguably miss their mark: making Guinness look traditional in an old-fashioned way rather than in an edgy, artisanal one.

In the US, the decision to “Americanise” Guinness Blonde also seems risky. One of the strongest differentiators Guinness has going for it is its Irish cachet, which plays very well in the US. While US hops are widely considered the best in the world, this move looks too much like Guinness is trying to mimic US craft beers, rather than be true to its own distinctive identity, which it has traditionally championed.

The feeling there is that in Guinness’ attempts to revive its brand equity and sales, it is stretching itself too far and diluting its core identity. Thus leaving a bitter, rather than a stout, aftertaste. In the words of Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Jonny is Mintel’s Global Drinks Analyst. Having previously been responsible for researching and writing all of Mintel’s UK drinks reports, Jonny now works on a global level. He brings ten years of experience working in the marketing industry, with roles at Starcom Mediavest, AB-Inbev, and Trinity Mirror.

Jonny Forsyth
Jonny Forsyth

Jonny Forsyth is Associate Director, Mintel Food & Drink, monitoring and engaging with latest innovations and market developments in all alcohol and coffee categories.

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