Guinness Gets Crafty With New 'Brewer's Project'

Irish Brand Touts Its History and Brewing Know-How For New Innovation Program

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Guinness began brewing beer in 1759, giving the Irish brand a more than 200-year head start on the average craft brew. But for its newest round of ads, Guinness is borrowing from the much-younger craft beer playbook with spots that tout the brand's liquid credentials and put Guinness brewers in the spotlight.

Guinness -- known for its creamy, dark-as-night Irish stout -- is also boosting the number of beers it sells, experimenting with new varieties and styles, just like craft brewers do. But as it accelerates its innovation strategy, the brand is making use of something craft brewers don't have: 256 years of brewing history that began when Arthur Guinness started making his first porters and ales in Dublin.

"We are telling a story and it's about our beer, our people and our heritage," said Emma Giles, brand director for beers in North America for Guinness-owner Diageo. Consumers "want those great stories and Guinness really is in a position to share some really interesting stories. Knowledge is currency these days."

The initiative, called the "Brewers Project," is based in a small brewery within Guinness's main operations at St. James's Gate in Dublin, Ireland. There, a team of brewers is experimenting with new beers, dusting off old Guinness recipes for inspiration while drawing upon present-day beer trends.

"We see the need here to really drive our innovation agenda," Ms. Giles said. "We know that millennials are looking for variety."

The first beers out of the gate began selling in western Europe late last year. They include Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter, as well as the recently launched lager called Hop House 13. In the U.S., Guinness is targeting an October launch for new varieties that it has yet to disclose.

Leading up to the U.S. launch, Guinness recently began airing an ad called "Gates" (above) that goes behind the scenes of the St. James's Gate brewery, while showcasing people such as a third-generation Guinness barley farmer. Another new spot touts Guinness Blonde American Lager, which launched last year and is brewed in the U.S. at a brewery in Latrobe, Pa.

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When the Brewers Project beers begin hitting the U.S. market this fall, Guinness will support them with a full campaign including TV and digital ads. The agency behind that effort, as well as the new ads already airing, is Quaker City Mercantile of Philadelphia. The shop worked with Guinness on the Brewers Project launch in Europe, including this ad below for Hop House 13, which is touted as having "more hops, more taste and more character."

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In the U.S., Guinness has most recently been working with BBDO, New York. The Omnicom Group agency will remain on the brand's roster, handling trademark advertising, Ms. Giles said. But Quaker City appears poised to carry most of the workload in coming months. The marketer was impressed with the agency's work for the Guinness in Europe, Ms. Giles said. "Our focus is on innovation and the Brewers Project for the foreseeable future," she added.

When Guinness Blonde was launched in the states last year, Guinness positioned it as a "fusion brew," blending the American lager brewing style with the influence of overseas Guinness know-how. The beer was the first style launched as part of a new program called "Discovery Series." That initiative has since been folded into the Brewers Project, Ms. Giles said.

For now, Brewers Project beers will be made in Ireland. But Ms. Giles did not rule out growing production to other parts of the globe. While it is most closely linked to Ireland, Guinness is brewed in nearly 50 countries. "We are very open to collaboration," Ms. Giles said.

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