Guinness’s ‘Surfer’ ad didn’t do that well in research ‘but we ignored it’

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No list of the greatest ads of the past 40 years would be complete without Guinness’s ‘Surfer’ ad. The TV spot was creatively brilliant, commercially successful and helped propel the careers of everyone behind it &- the brand marketer Andy Fennell, AMV BBDO’s Walter Campbell and director Jonathan Glazer.

Little did the team know they would be making a classic when AMV pitched for the Guinness business in late 1997. The agency of record on the brand for a dozen years had been Ogilvy & Mather, which was behind iconic ads including ‘The man with the Guinness’. But when Fennell joined Guinness (which was not yet owned by Diageo), he says the brand’s performance was “lacking somewhat”. And that while he worked hard to avoid changing the agency, they just couldn’t make it work.

“The ad communication was not as strong. The campaign at the time was ‘Not everything in black and white makes sense’ and it was trying to cause reappraisal. We wanted something that would get back the product truth,” he explains.

The brief for the subsequent pitch was simple: to get the brand growing faster. And four agencies were called in to see if they could find the “product truth”

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