Visiting Dublin last week, I made the compulsory pilgrimage to the Guinness Storehouse, which last year was won ‘Europe’s Leading Tourist Attraction’ at the World Travel Awards, beating the likes of the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, and Buckingham Palace! Stylishly set out and easy to get around, it does full justice to an iconic Irish brand and is well worth a visit.
As much as I loved everything from its Willy-Wonka-esque tasting room to its panoramic ‘Gravity Bar’, my favourite section had to be the floor dedicated to the world-renowned Guinness advertising campaigns, most prominently, those created by artist John Gilroy from the 1930s to the 1960s.
John Gilroy’s self-portrait. From the Heaton History Group website.
Hailing from Whitley Bay in the northeast of England, Gilroy graduated from London’s Royal College of Art after serving with an artillery unit in World War One. In 1925, he joined the Benson’s advertising agency, initially working on campaigns for brands like Bovril and Colman’s Mustard. Three years later, he started working on campaigns for Guinness with copywriters like Robert Bevan and Ronald Barton, creating funny and endearing artwork that gave the brand an iconic status.
The very first newspaper advert for Guinness, published on 06 February 1929, does not actually feature Gilroy’s work – he made his first poster in 1930. While this first advert doesn’t exactly catch the eye, it does include the now immortal slogan, ‘Guinness is Good for You’. The people at Benson’s apparently came up with this after consumers responded to market research by saying that drinking Guinness made them feel good.
The very first newspaper advert for Guinness. Taken from the official Guinness website.
The first campaign Gilroy is most famously associated with is ‘Guinness for Strength’, showing people gaining super-strength from drinking a pint or two. Compare this to the much later energy-drink slogan, ‘Red Bull gives you wings’!
‘My Goodness, My Guinness’ is the second campaign, which features a colourful host of zoo animals stealing the drink from their stressed-out zookeeper, who is a caricature of Gilroy. He supposedly thought up this concept after seeing a sea lion performing at a circus, which led him to imagine that it might do a good job balancing a Guinness glass on its nose.
Most loved of all of Gilroy’s animals was the Guinness Toucan. It was the novelist Dorothy L. Sayers who, working as a copywriter at Benson’s, came up with the following well-known rhyme:
From the History House website.
During the Second World War, Gilroy added to his advertising work by helping to put together posters for the British Government, promoting things like the reduction of food waste. Although Gilroy left Benson’s in the 1940s to pursue a freelance career, he still made artwork for Guinness. In 1953, he brought his animals together to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:
Taken from the Brookston Beer Bulletin.
Gilroy’s animals also made their way into early Guinness television commercials, though that is, of course, no longer the case. From the 1970s onwards, the Guinness campaigns were taken up by a succession of different agencies, resulting in a range of equally distinguished adverts. Gilroy passed away in 1985, having had successful careers in advertising and portrait painting. He had worked on Guinness publicity for 35 years, producing over 100 newspaper adverts and some 50 poster designs, creating an internationally recognised circus of animals who all loved a good pint.