How Guinness Combines History and Simplicity For Irresistible Beer Marketing

Even if you've never tried Guinness before, odds are you know what it is. But how has Guinness become—and stayed—a household name without compromising its rich history?

Beer marketing has been made effortless by Guinness—for nearly 300 years. Learn how they do it, balancing a deep history and new technology.

When I’m finally vaccinated and ready to hit the town again, the first thing I’ll do is go to a bar and order a Guinness. Notice what I said. If I’d just written beer, that’d be too vague. If I’d put Brains or Murphy’s or some other brand, that’d be too specific. I said Guinness, a word that’s broad enough for everyone to recognize, yet evocative enough that you can easily imagine every drop of condensation on the glass and every bubble in the foam. 

There are few drinks—and indeed few brands—that can conjure so much in eight simple letters. Yet the storied Irish stout manages it with aplomb. How? Through a mixture of historical awareness and new technology, a delicious blend of sophistication and accessibility. And even if you find the black stuff too heavy or too alcoholic, don’t worry. The story of Guinness offers over 300 years of beer marketing gold for your brand, too. 

A sense of history

Guinness marketers begin by emphasizing just how special their stout is. With the tagline “Beer Made From More,” you know right from the off that you’re in for something different. That feeling is confirmed when you read up on how the beer is brewed. A focus on “the art” of Guinness brewingcomplete with its “heritage craft”—immediately gives the drink a deep and intoxicating sense of history.

This is supported by an interactive timeline showcasing the drink’s age. Written in that typical Guinness style, balancing frivolity and sophistication, it covers the beer’s story from Dublin in the 1750s all the way to the present. Importantly, this isn’t just framed as yet another “About Us” history lesson. Instead, Guinness copywriters have carefully woven their beer marketing throughout. 

So we learn that Guinness’ famous harp logo premiered in 1862, and that in 1929 the beer began a “courageously creative” marketing campaign—under the now legendary tagline “Guinness is Good for You” (I quite agree). Apart from being fascinating in their own right, these titbits all serve a common goal: boosting the Guinness brand, showcasing its age, and introducing a new generation of drinkers to its charms. 

Of course, there are lessons for your brand here too—even if you have absolutely no dealings with barley or hops. You might be as old as Guinness or you could have arrived yesterday. Either way, it’s vitally important that you imbue your brand story with a sense of mission, purpose, and forward momentum. 

Learn why the best return on your marketing dollar comes from copywriting.

Exploiting new technology for delicious beer marketing

Its age might give the impression that Guinness is an elite beer for sophisticated people. Up to a point, that’s true. Yet the Dublin firm’s marketers are also savvy enough to know that snobbery isn’t the way to keep an audience. So it makes it clear in a gentle, accessible Q&A”give us a Q and we’ll give you an A”how to pour and enjoy the drink. 

Naturally, this is a repeatable marketing tactic—especially when more straightforward answers are interspersed with offbeat and entertaining facts. Did you know, for example, that the company sells 1.8 billion pints each and every year, or that Guinness is available in well over 100 countries worldwide and  brewed in over 40?

At the same time, Guinness regularly exploits new technology to show that it’s not just stuck in a stagnant historical timeline. One corner of its website, after all, describes how  brewers are constantly chasing a “spirit of innovation” by developing sustainable processes that evolve  with the times. Not only does this speak to Guinness’ enterprising spirit—it also tees the brand up to shift its beer marketing whenever new technology appears.

This sense of sustainability is true in another way too. Just as new science is making Guinness even more delicious—who in the eighteenth century would have imagined that beer would one day be made using nitrogen?—it’s also a way of helping the planet. 

In that same playful tone, Guinness marketers explain how carefully the brand takes its environmental sustainability, once again linking back to that wonderful history. As they say on their website: “Sustainable development and protecting the environment of Dublin communities has been a core philosophy of the Guinness company since it was founded in 1759.”

Depending on your brand, you may not have many ways of becoming environmentally sustainable—or indeed helping Dublin. Even so, Guinness’ tactics can still prove useful. Always ensure your marketing tactics can shift with the times. And if you can look wholesome doing it, even better. 

MarketSmiths Case Study

Alongside ripe competition in the storied Willamette Valley, Flaneur Winery wanted to stand out. So Russell Litchenthall, Director of Hospitality & Sales, reached out to an old friend at MarketSmiths. We were able to learn and tell the business’ unique backstory, explaining the origins, philosophy, unusual name—and historic grain elevator, a major visitors’ attraction. The published copy is as beautiful as the images that make this winery website stand out

> Read the full case study

King Beer

In short, perfect beer marketing isn’t a matter of sticking to your history—or abandoning it altogether. It’s not a case of priding yourself on age-old recipes—or throwing them out the window. It’s not about being haughty to your audience—or treating them like idiots. 

In an ode to the irreplaceable flavor of Guinness itself, it’s about carefully mixing all these things, embracing what works but also being willing to change. Now that’s something every marketer can raise a glass to. I’m certainly planning on it. 

What copy that you can’t get enough of—without leaving a bitter taste in your mouth? The master copy brewers at MarketSmiths can help. 

Andrea Valentino

Andrea Valentino

Andrea is originally from London, and came to New York after a stint in journalism. He loves everything to do with writing—as well as obscure language facts, decent wine, and chocolate cake.

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