Guinness, 1969 onwards
Winning Guinness was a special event for JWT and it led to the creation of many standout commercials and thousands of tactical and long copy print ads. In its final pitch JWT presented Guinness with eight TV commercials made with the noted fashion photographer and film director Terence Donovan.
In his interview for Tom Rayfield’s anecdotal history of JWT 1945 – 1995, “Fifty in 40”, Jeremy recalls the pitch and its run-up:
“The Guinness account had been at S.H. Benson ever since they started advertising in 1929. The Chairman of the Advertising Association announced with huge satisfaction that Guinness had decided to advertise, because they had been behaving like the American Hershey Bar until then – another hugely successful corporation that claimed never to need advertising.
But, by 1969, the disaffection with S.H. Benson had been there for quite a long time. I suspect that Guinness and Benson’s and TV had never really got their act together; there was never the TV equivalent of the Gilroy poster campaign. It is speculation, but I think that the fact that the Benson’s TV writers were totally divorced from the agency may have made Guinness wonder just who was responsible for the understanding of their brand.
Meanwhile, JWT was beginning to get an extraordinary reputation for being the best at thinking and doing, certainly the best at thinking. There is a myth that the Guinness account was won at the 1968 Role Reversal Seminar at Cambridge. That is not true; but what is true is that Alan Wood, who was their Advertising Director, was at that seminar. I was at it too and I saw a bit of Alan and we came back on the same train and I gave him a lift to wherever he was going. That was the beginning of him knowing something of JWT.
So when Alan and his wife invited me and my wife, Pamela, to share their box at the Royal Opera House, I remember Pamela saying to Alan, “Why have you invited us? You can’t be mad enough to think of moving your account”.
Then James Bruxner, the Guinness ‘New Product Manager’, got in touch with JWT. He said, “It has nothing to do with the main account, but can I come and have a look around?” We all said, “We’ll take it as seriously as if it were the main account.” Chris Thomas was in charge. We had lots of meetings and developed lots of advertising, long before the world knew that we were involved. There was no other candidate, as far as I know.
There never was a ‘new product’. They admitted afterwards that James Bruxner and his ‘Development Team’ were just a front. We worked with them for six months or more developing advertising, without having the account. Their research man Mike Vineall was particularly helpful and valuable. He was our account planner really and he liked the thoughtfulness he found in Berkeley Square. He would listen to what we proposed and would say, “I think that’s very intelligent stuff but what you have missed is…” Then he would give us a fact that rendered everything we’d said useless. But he didn’t hold it against us. He would say, “Now, if we take what you’ve just been saying and the fact that I’ve introduced, there is actually something…” He wanted us to be good.
Then, eventually, in 1969, there was a final presentation and that’s when the Guinness family was first involved, and several Earls appeared. The day we learnt we had got the Guinness account was the day of Assia’s funeral [JWT copywriter Assia Wevill had committed suicide]. It was a real clash of emotions. I came back from the funeral to be asked to go and see Chris Thomas. The win got even the national press interested.
There was, however, no sense of triumph about getting Guinness, because the task was seen to be about doing it well, not about getting it. Alan Wood said to me, “No doubt you’re feeling like a new editor of Punch, everybody’s going to say it was much better before”. He was right, that was my real concern. The really gratifying thing was the way the advertising was received in the first two or three years, both by the industry and the consumers. Within 18 months, it had become our most famous account.”