For several years now Diageo has been trying, with mixed success, to stretch the Guinness brand into new product territories, with previous shortlived innovations including Guinness Red, Brite and Light.
We’ve debated in the past why these launches haven’t endured, with some feeling that the brand can’t and shouldn’t be stretched too far away from what Guinness is at its core. While this instinct be right, I can’t help but hope that it’s wrong. If you compare Guinness to Apple (as most things are these days), they didn’t just stop with the iPod breakthrough and settle for being the ‘best music provider’.
So, when we think about ‘Guinness’, what are the first things that spring to mind? Irish? Old? Heavy? Creamy? Tasty? Premium? Unmistakable?
At its core, Guinness is that thick and creamy dry stout, typically associated (St Patrick’s Day aside) with middle-aged to older gentlemen, country pubs and any season that isn’t Summer. When we look at shandy, light lagers or even ciders, can we say the same?
Guinness of course has long-standing history in the category, and is a largely unrivalled stout. Ultimately, the brand attributes all build to a rich, distinguishable product, arguably giving Guinness the credibility to expand into other beer types – but perhaps not into lighter beers. At least, not until now.
The gap between dark and light beers is undeniably large and their consumption occasions often different, but their audiences are very different too – as well as their relationship with and perceptions of the brand. When we look at ‘lighter’ beer consumers, their drivers and influencers, the behavioral change that we’re asking of them to step Guinness’s way is huge and demanding.
But while Diageo’s attempts at lighter Guinness beers have faltered in the past, we shouldn’t write them off forever. Recently, they’ve been riding that Craft Beer ‘trend-wagon’ in the middle ground, and to some considerable success. Their previous campaign, the ‘Brewers Project’, launched the Dublin Porter and Guinness West Indies Porter – both of which are said to have generated considerable boosts in figures. Both mined the heritage of Guinness; brewers digging through the archives and sifting through old recipe books to re-invent something spectacular. It stood up.
The most recent creation however is more daring and is capturing our attention more – the Golden Ale.
The ad itself feels almost magical; the Willy Wonka style gates evoke a sort of childhood nostalgia and secrecy – we’re being exclusively invited in behind the scenes. We’re invited to join in with the discovery of a product; it feels fun yet scientific – an adventure. The premium cues come through strongly, with the advert drawing on pride, worth and uniqueness – all existing and universally recognized brand attributes. The rest of the advert plays out the consumption occasions for the new beer. It differentiates the new product from the existing Guinness range, nicely defining the time and place of consumption for the new target audience; sharing, friends, summer. Great execution.
Could it provide that much needed bridge for Diageo between Guinness and light beers and their audiences – and open the gates to further innovation for Guinness?
Well, the innovation itself feels bold enough to capture attention (notably the colour and texture) and holds on to enough Guinness brand equity to feel meaningful (ale, not lager/shandy/cider). It also interests me how Diageo have positioned this beer locally. In the UK it’s an Ale – but in reality it’s closer than most to a Blonde Lager, which (coincidentally) is how it’s positioned in the US.
But is the idea of a Guinness Ale distinctive and compelling enough to take a slice of the vibrant, discerning, craft ale category (where unfamiliar names are the order of the day)? Perhaps. At the very least, it’s a smart way to get a quick piece of the ale action, without building a new-to-world brand – and it probably does no harm at all to the parent, the noble ‘Black Stuff’. Currently, Guinness-the-parent is all about being ‘Made of More’. Arguably, a Golden Ale reinforces that ‘More’ claim.
Give it time. New, younger brand ambassadors for the Golden Ale may emerge and Guinness may earn more license to stretch further into ‘lighter’ spaces. In my household at least, that Golden Ale story provoked plenty of curiosity – so it’s now on the shopping list for our next trip. Let’s hope it passes the taste test. Safe…