Friday, July 4, 2014


So today on Forbes, Will Burns, CEO of a "virtual marketing ideas company pioneering the Expert Sourcing model" (whatever that is) shared his thoughts on a the Guinness "Empty Chair" ad.

The rather bad, sappy ad shows a barmaid pouring Guinness beer into a glass, night after night, setting those beers on a table at which no one sits. At long last, a battledress wearing soldier walks into the bar, the barmaid nods to him and he picks up the glass. Then a few other drinkers hoist their also-filled with Guinness bar glasses in salute to the soldier. The ad ends with a voiceover:
"The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character."
Will seems to believe such an ad makes Guinness "the icon of great branding." Will views this 1:30 spot as mini-movie because of the editing techniques which give a sense of time passage.

Fair enough. Almost all ads are in short-story format, happening in one place, at one time, with one protagonist. Few ads try to suggest the passage of time spanning days or weeks.

Will believes all viewers get hooked straight away on this ad because the barmaid places beers on a table seemingly for no one. Will sees the barmaid as the hero who never gives up hope on the returning soldier.

And then Will jumps to wild conclusion. First Will claims, "The beer itself was a glass full of hope," and then Will doubles down with,

"... that glass of Guinness is made of much more. It is a symbol of the bartender’s hope. It’s the very manifestation of the choice she made. It’s a liquid representative of her character."

Anyone who believes that Guinness ad is good advertising simply doesn't understand advertising and beliefs manipulation that leads to action. The ad agency and the execs of Guinness simply do not understand advertising at all.

The ad relies upon indirect suggestion to support a well-known technique known as testimonial: "An unknown bartender serves Guinness"That is one step worse than an ad featuring a celebrity doing the same, "Kim Kardashian drinks Guinness." Implied in both is suggestion that because one does it, you should too.

Against what Will believes, watchers don’t give a flip about the barmaid and her character. No one watching the ad says to himself, Wow. I want to be like the barmaid. I want a job like a barmaid. I want to serve Guinness. So I should go out and buy Guinness so I can be like the barmaid.

If anything, anyone watching the ad might think, Wow. I need a friend like the barmaid. What am I doing with the friends I have? I should go find new friends. But how? 

"The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character" slogan could be the slogan against drinking or against drugging. It is not befitting for any alcohol product.

Everyone knows that anyone drinks alcohol for its mind altering effects. There isn't anything character building about altering one's mind.

As well, any beer could have been placed on that table and nothing would change for that ad, even a generic, no brand beer. There isn't anything to connect the brand with the act of putting out a beer upon an empty table night after night.

Where does the ad show the reward to the watchers? What do watchers get for switching brands and buying Guinness or for taking up drinking beer?

The Guinness ad does nothing to suggest a future for the individual watching it. The ad fails to show watchers they will gain any of the key drivers of behavior by buying Guinness — praise, sex, love, respect, power — or suffer personal disadvantage through lack while others are getting and thus getting ahead.

The barmaid fails to get rewarded by her peers for being loyal to the soldier. If the Guinness ad were structured right, it is the barmaid and not the soldier who should have received glasses-raised toasts from the other drinkers.

If anything, the ad suggests that if you join the military and return home, your reward shall be one glass of Guinness that your local haunt barmaid buys for you. Your pub peers will not even bother to throw you a homecoming party.

The ad is a rather clumsy application of an appeal to patriotism. In effect, having the patrons raise their glasses to the soldier is a visual salute by the execs of Guinness to soldiers. The act implies having said We salute you for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The timing of such an ad could not be worse. Anti-war sentiment is near a high in America. People have grown war-weary over Afghanistan and Iraq.

Though some might get touched by the sappy sentimentality, that ad isn't going to sell anyone. The ad violates core understanding of how true advertising works. The ad fails thoroughly at selling Guinness but might sell many on friendship seeking services, might get some into Alcoholics Anonymous or might get some to join the military.

A great ad does this and this alone: It puts the one seeing the ad into a wanted future and in so doing, triggers that one to act now in effort to get that future.

People seek status among their peers by wowing them with their purchases and in so doing demonstrating their superiority. Nothing in that ad says any of these:

  • Gain status tomorrow by buying Guinness right now. 
  • Get sex tonight from your partner by buying Guinness right now. 
  • Catch up with everyone by buying Guinness right now otherwise you are going to be cast away as an outsider.

A better ad would have featured a homecoming party for the soldier with a loser, who, when it his turn to buy the soldier a beer, orders a cheap beer, but with everyone else shouting at him, saying in unison, "What are you doing? Buy him a Guinness!"

And entire campaign could be built on the slogan, What are you doing? Buy him a Guinness! It is easy to see future scenarios of persons about to make the mistake of buying another beer only to be rescued at last second with someone's suggestion to buy a Guinness. I bought him a Guinness would make for a fine extension of the theme.

Businessmen spend on advertising to increase sales because it takes too long to wait for word of mouth to take hold. Advertisers don’t exist for advertising agencies. Ad spending does not exist for ad agencies.

The secret to all good ads is this: any ad must reflect what the plain man or woman believes rather than what the advertising agency execs believe. Yet, all kinds of ad creatives believe good advertising is what they desire to make.

For many years running, businessmen as advertisers have been swindled by agency execs into making one-off ads, ads often filled with mixed messages that neither inspire watchers to act nor establish mnemonic for would-be shoppers.

Contemporary television advertising idles in such a sorry state. Every ad is either a Clydesdale tear-jerker, like the lame Guinness ad or a build-up to a corny, sappy one-liner bad joke.

Here is the ad in all of its glorious fail.

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