Advertising the Black Stuff from 1959 to 1999

28 Jul, 2020

A new book by Dr Patricia Medcalf, - Advertising the Black Stuff in Ireland 1959 to 1999: Increments of Change - which is a monograph based on her doctoral studies into the Guinness advertising over 50 years.

Many of the changes that occurred in Ireland over the course of those years are charted in this book by piecing together many of the ads held in the Guinness Archive. Just as Irishness, cultural specificity and the provenance of Guinness formed an integral part of these ads, so too did the growing prevalence of international cultural tropes. 

The book seeks to interrogate the following: the influence of the Guinness brand’s provenance on advertising campaigns aimed at consumers living in Ireland; the evolution of cultural signs used in Guinness’s advertising campaigns aimed at consumers in Ireland between 1959 and 1999; the extent to which Ireland’s social and economic history might be recounted through the lens of Guinness’s ads; and the extent to which Guinness’s advertising might have influenced Irish culture and society.

Chapter 2’s examination of 1959 to 1969 introduces readers to TK Whitaker’s plan and its importance as being the genesis of Ireland’s transition from an insular, ailing economy to a small open economy. This triggered a period of economic and societal change in Ireland. The country’s first national television station was launched, domestic and international tourism grew, the middle class burgeoned, migration from rural to urban/suburban communities gathered pace, and women’s role in certain sections of society changed. Significantly, 1959 marked the publication of Guinness’s first ad that was made specifically for the Irish market and throughout the decade, many of the brand’s advertising themes mirrored, and possibly preempted, the modernisation of Ireland’s society and economy.

Chapter 3 focused on the seventies when alcohol consumption patterns showed signs of changing. Consumers enjoyed more choice, and it was no longer a given that young men would follow in their fathers’ footsteps and choose Guinness, many preferring to opt for ‘more palatable’ drinks. Consequently, Guinness sought to maintain market share by aiming some of its advertising campaigns at women. Meanwhile, Irish culture was more open to outside influences, and many of these were reflected in Guinness’s ads.

Chapter 4 revisits the eighties, remembered as a decade of severe economic hardship and record levels of unemployment. Guinness was sympathetic to this and at times, referenced the harsh landscape in its ads. More often, it attempted to communicate positive messages, ones that recognised Ireland as an increasingly consumer society (despite the economic hardship). Emigration and international travel were foregrounded by Guinness in the guise of ads that featured sporting and music celebrities. Both sides of the globalisation debate are captured in a TV ad at the end of the decade, once again emphasising Guinness’s willingness to tackle significant societal issues in its advertising.

The book concludes with the nineties, a decade that can be viewed in two halves. The first was quiet and relatively uneventful. However, several events (the election of Ireland’s first female President, Ireland’s participation in football’s World Cup tournament for the first time, Riverdance), and economic endeavour were vital ingredients in the emergence of the Celtic Tiger. Guinness was integrated into the newly created global giant, Diageo. A more liberal Irish society was portrayed in the ads in the second half of the decade, which is indicative of the Church’s loosening grip, and a more confident female population, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and the end of the prohibition of divorce.

Meanwhile, the advertising industry’s period of consolidation and internationalisation had an impact on Guinness advertising when the coveted account was awarded to a London agency, a move that seemed to dilute the Irishness of the brand. Perhaps this was to be expected as both Ireland and Guinness were being reimagined.

You can buy Dr Medcalf's book online here.