Word-of-Mouth and Referral Marketing Blog

Guinness Marketing Example – Analyzing the simple, effective marketing behind Guinness’s “phones down” ad.


Guinness put out an ad telling us to put our phones down and enjoy drinking responsibly. Its been deemed interesting enough to be shared and reported on Mashable and Business Insider respectively, so here it is:


“I think advertising should be like poison gas. It should grip you by the throat, it should bowl you over, it should knock you on your ass.”  – George Lois

As a marketer, I enjoy this kind of ad because it’s polarizing.

It makes a claim, and it doesn’t try to be balanced.  Declaring what you’re up against is a great way to rally people together. You’ll alienate some people, but you’ll win supporters too.  All that matters from a business perspective is that enough of your supporters turn into paying customers. We last talked about this when analysing Converse’s “Shoes are boring” slogan.

Guinness understands its target market.

 They also know that their customers are typically the “Older, Wiser, Classier” group. To be more precise, they’re the type who’d aspire to be described by such terms. A lot of marketing is fundamentally aspirational, and Guinness is leading a charge here. Not an incredibly subtle charge, but subtle enough, relative to its competitors.

It’s all about selling a story that your customers want to hear. 

That’s what Guinness achieves, I think, by taking a stand on phones. They allow beer drinkers to make a statement about their personal preferences. About their identity. That’s a part of what branding is. “Yeah, I agree with what Guinness is about. That’s my kind of beer.”

Facilitate conversations.

I can totally imagine hundreds, maybe thousands of Facebook arguments taking place, overanalysing the pros and cons of having phones at the table. Somebody will share the picture and go “Damn straight,” to communicate to others (on Facebook, ironically) that they believe that phones should be put away.

The interesting thing is that by leading the conversation, Guinness gets additional exposure, additional airtime, share-of-mind, even with people who might not ordinarily be beer drinkers. It’s a net positive for the brand.

So… phones down?

The “put down your phone” idea isn’t particularly a new one. Much has been written about it, as has been written about every new technology:

  • There are 37 million views on I Forgot My Phone, a video made about what it’s like when everybody’s looking at their phones.
  • ZenPencils comic 129. Marc Maron – The Social Media Generation is about how people spend time addicted to Facebook for validation, almost literally like a heroin addict might. Ironically, it gets quite a lot of mileage on Facebook. (Ever wondered why? We did, in our essay Why are people so annoying on social media?)
  • There’s an xkcd comic called The Pace of Modern Life, which includes quotes like “Our modern family gathering, silent around the fire, each individual with his head buried in his favourite magazine,” from The Journal of Education in 1907. This is not a new phenomenon- it has polarized people for a long time, and that’s not going to stop anytime soon.
“Look at all this technology making us antisocial.”

So you see, Guinness isn’t being particularly brave, special, genius or unique with regards to the views they’re expressing. What they are doing, though, is effective marketing. They identified what their market wanted to hear, and they expressed it. Now that’s always something to learn from.

Image Credit: Paul Ellis/Getty

Read next: The 10 best marketing slogans… ever!


Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's Blog Editor. He also co-founded Statement.sg, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's been thrice named a Top Writer on Quora. He hopes to enjoy a glass of whiskey onboard a commercial space flight someday.

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