A barkeeper clicks on a neon sign in the window, and dutifully wipes down the bar. A distributor reels in a delivery on a handtruck. A waitress ties on her apron as the day’s first customer approaches, singing to himself a line from Frankie Valli’s 1967 hit, “Can’t Keep My Eyes Off Of You.”
He’s joined by the spare staff as additional patrons arrive, and the din gradually increases. By the time they reach the chorus—and, especially, the “I love you baby” of its middle eight—the joint is jumping, the taps are flowing, and the once-quiet room has become the scene of a raucous happy hour.
That’s the idealized vision of a “back-to-normal” moment from Guinness, the famed Irish beer whose signature holiday, St. Patrick’s Day, took on a dangerous connotation in 2020 and a decidedly muted one last year as bar business sunk amid the pandemic.
Intended to welcome back the spirit and joy of St. Patrick’s Day after two long years, the new commercial, known as “All Together Now,” comes from the Diageo-owned beer brand and its creative agency, Quaker City Mercantile.
According to Jay Sethi, chief marketing officer of Guinness, the campaign makes good on a promise that the brand hustled out when the sudden arrival of the global coronavirus pandemic in 2020 made the traditional St. Patrick’s Day gathering take on a disturbing and potentially deadly reputation. Though it had other plans in 2020, Guinness made a promise: “Don’t Worry,” the brand said. “We’ll March Again.”
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“When we thought about what kind of message we wanted to relay this year, we thought about the long and challenging two years we’d been through, and it really all started on St. Patrick’s Day of 2020,” Sethi said in an interview. “But I also think that set the brand on a new course.”
Essentially cornered from its customary ability to promote celebrating the holiday, Guinness followed its message of optimism from 2020 with one featuring resilience in 2021, highlighting the support the brand provided to sidelined bars and restaurants and their employees last year.
This year, “with a little Irish luck,” Sethi cautioned, that resilience and optimism come together in a spot that welcomes the brand back into the lives of its fans and the venues in which they’ll gather, which as the omicron variant fades, are finally freeing themselves from COVID-related restrictions on capacity and operating hours.
“People have been asking themselves, ‘What’s the right tone to take? What’s the right message to send?’ We’ll find out shortly. But one thing about this brand from the beginning is when we’ve thought about the message they should hear from us, we knew we would return to the brand’s attributes of optimism and resilience, and I think we’ve done that.”
Even without the pandemic, it’s been a challenging few years for the beer business, with consumers—particularly coveted new drinkers—increasingly tempted by alternatives like hard seltzers, new formulations that better align with active lifestyles, and trendy microbrands promising more flavor and a more powerful alcoholic punch. Guinness has weathered these challenges better than many of its tap-handle peers, Sethi said, outperforming its beer category by some 8.7 times over the last two years.
In second-quarter financial results released in late January, parent Diageo said its U.S. beer business was up by 13% in revenue and by 10% in volume, with the majority of those gains concentrated in premium offerings like Guinness. In the U.S., Diageo also markets Harp lager and Kilkenny, an Irish-style red ale.
Sethi attributes the uptick to the brand’s move to infiltrate occasions and properties it might not once have approached, like football fans. A series of ads debuting last year featured footage from the Notre Dame career of Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. One especially effective ad drew parallels between a proper pour into a pint glass with slow-motion footage of a Montana passing play, showing bar patrons waiting patiently as the chunky head dissipates while a pass flies on the bar television. “Good things come to those who wait,” was the message.
“You can love seltzer and also love Guinness. There’s really not that much overlap,” argued Sethi. “Our football programming has been a backbone of our growth as well. The work with Joe Montana and Notre Dame has really helped to make the brand be seen as something you can enjoy all year long, and at different occasions.”
St. Patrick’s Day remains Guinness' Super Bowl, however. In coming weeks, the brand plans activations designed to bring the “All Together Now” message to life including customary events like New York Stock Exchange opening bell-ringing, and the “greening” of the Chicago River, that had been hampered or canceled by the events of the recent year.
Guinness shot the ad at a West Hollywood tavern—its relationship with outlets prevented it from revealing which. The song was selected based on its relevant-for-the-moment lyrics and joyous, singalong of a chorus, Sethi said. “We thought about different songs we might might use, but it was one of those situations where, when you know, you know, and it was all over.”