The Genius In Guinness

How the unlikely pair of toucan and the "the dark stuff" came to be.

When visiting a brewery, there are always several consistent elements you can expect to see. And with everyone becoming their own brewmaster these days, that process is more or less a well-known methodology: Water, barley, hops. Distill, rinse, repeat.

Differentiation begins with a brew’s branding. The way a brewery presents itself can alter its marketing outcomes entirely. And of course, behind every brand is a story.

The story of Arthur Guinness and St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin began with a 9,000 year lease—an intimidating task to take on for any new company. It was a display of confidence that Arthur had enough faith in his beer that there would be a consistent demand for that long.

Since its inception in 1759, Guinness was passed around pint by pint, from pub to pub and word of mouth alone. That is until the 1930s, when sales began to decline as negative associations with alcohol began to rise. Ad agency S.H. Beldon stepped in after being commissioned to create a national campaign in 1935. Art director John Gilroy recalls being instructed to avoid solely focusing on the beer; they thought a campaign specifically about any kind of alcohol would be offensive. Imagine that.

The dark ruby colored stout is renowned for its rich, thick body and proud Irish roots. But Guinness wanted to zero in on the health benefits of the beer—high in iron, low in calories.

Gilroy set out to complete the task and while he was at the zoo, he witnessed a seal balancing a beach ball on its nose. He thought, “Why couldn’t that be a pint of Guinness?” He continued to be inspired by the various exotic animals, adding elements of Guinness into their world with each one.  He thought it would be attention-grabbing, especially in country with a climate like Ireland, to have all these creatures interacting with Guinness.


Though he had originally planned on using a pelican as the main bird of the campaign, the first rounds of color-printing were making their way into mainstream newspapers and the agency wanted to take advantage of it. A toucan’s bright orange beak contrasting with the Guinness was a much more memorable image than that of a pelican.   

This minor adjustment became an achievement in ingenuity for the Guinness brand launching them into worldwide markets and timeless status that Guinness is associated with.

You are probably already familiar with “My Goodness, My Guinness” or “Guinness is Good For You” among the original copy by Dorothy Sayers that accompanied Gilroy’s series of Guinness advertisements.

While the way a beer is brewed is one element of its unique characterization, the first Guinness marketing campaign associated with it lives on in pubs throughout the world today.

And indeed, they’re 258 years through Arthur’s original 9,000 year lease. The toucan has a lot more beer to brew.

Sláinte! (Cheers!)

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Lessons from Advertising