There’s that old joke that an Irish seven course meal is a potato and a six-pack of Guinness. There is no question that Guinness is an iconic part of Irish heritage, not least because of it’s fun and clever advertising. Although it relied on word of mouth for most of its long history, it began launching ad campaigns at the end of the 1920s, many becoming so popular that even today they can be seen on posters in college dorm rooms throughout the world.
Some of the most iconic of the vintage Guinness ads are the ones attributed to John Gilroy, a graphic designer working at S H Benson, Ltd. His first published ad in 1928 started the “Guinness for Strength” campaign.
Over the next 35 years he helped create nearly 50 poster designs for Guinness, including some of the brand’s most memorable. He is responsible for the various zoo animals (the toucan being the most famous) and for that (rather creepy) face in the beer froth that appeared regularly in ads from the 30s to the 60s.
Apparently the toucan was originally designed as a pelican balancing seven pints of Guinness on its beak for the “A Guinness a Day is Good for You” campaign, but it was redesigned as a pelican by Dorothy L Sayers who was part of the team that worked on the Guinness account.
Of course, more recent advertising standards have meant that Guinness hasn’t been able to use the “Guinness a Day” slogan in years, although some studies have suggested that a pint of Guinness may have similar effects to aspirin to reduce blood clots.
Although many of the ads are cute or silly, the brand has still made use of some of the usual tropes one expects to find in a beer ad.