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Guinness import co. has built U.S. marketing for Guinness stout just as one pours a pint of the black brew: Slowly.

The brand received its first major U.S. TV support last year only after Guinness Import Co. spent much of the 1990s building the brand's distribution and awareness. But the wait paid off: Sales grew 23.2% to 7 million cases in 1997, according to industry newsletter Impact.

"In some ways the brand is a little mysterious, because it's acknowledged that it's not for everyone," says Reggie Fils-Aime, VP-marketing for Guinness Import since May 1997. "We had to raise the level of awareness."

Breaking two TV spots in key markets was the latest step in raising the brand's profile and sales. The importer will continue that tack this year, possibly tripling last year's $8.7 million TV budget.

Weiss, Whitten, Stagliano, New York, handles advertising for the Guinness brand.

But before going onto the airwaves, Guinness spent five years expanding the brand's distribution and taking steps to ensure quality.

Responding to consumer complaints about taste, the importer sent field teams to instruct bars in the U.S. on the proper way to dispense Guinness, which uses a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen in its taps.

Guinness Import complemented this effort with promotions that harped on the brand's Irish heritage. In 1993, it launched its first popular "Win an Irish Pub" contest, in which entrants tried to describe a perfect pint of Guinness in 50 words or less to acquire a pub in Ireland.

The importer raised promotion to a new level last year with the Guinness Fleadh, a two-day music festival in New York that also was meant to reach young adults. The festival was so successful-distributors claim 2,000 barrels of beer were sold-that it expanded the effort to three cities this year.

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