Advertising the Black Stuff in Ireland 1959-1999

Increments of change

by Patricia Medcalf (Author)
©2020 Monographs XIV, 228 Pages
Series: Reimagining Ireland, Volume 95


1959 to 1999 was a pivotal time in the Republic of Ireland’s short history. This book’s journey commences in 1959 when the country had just taken its first steps on the road to internationalization. It concludes 40 years later in 1999, by which time Ireland had metamorphosed into one of the most globalized countries in the world. Inevitably, many of the country’s cultural and societal norms were challenged. The author charts many of the changes that occurred over the course of those years by piecing together a large number of the ads held in the Guinness Archive. Just as Irishness, cultural specificity and the provenance of Guinness formed an integral part of these ads, so too did the growing prevalence of international cultural tropes. The book seeks to interrogate the following: the influence of the Guinness brand’s provenance on advertising campaigns aimed at consumers living in Ireland; the evolution of cultural signs used in Guinness’s advertising campaigns aimed at consumers in Ireland between 1959 and 1999; the extent to which Ireland’s social and economic history might be recounted through the lens of Guinness’s ads; the extent to which Guinness’s advertising might have influenced Irish culture and society.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Figures
  • Foreword by Patrick Guinness
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • The question at the heart of this book
  • Exploring the Guinness Archive
  • Chapter 1 1959–1969: New beginnings
  • Guinness: A key player in Ireland’s economic success
  • Guinness and early TV advertising
  • Travel and tourism
  • Guardians of Irish culture
  • Breaking down barriers: Portraying women in the pub
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2 1970–1979: Emerging voices
  • Evolving economic landscape and changing alcohol consumption patterns
  • The 1970s: A seminal decade in redefining women’s role in Irish society
  • Timelessness, continuity and heritage
  • A sense of identity
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3 1980–1989: Economic hardship
  • A tap that could not be turned off
  • Donning the rose-tinted glasses
  • Living on an island
  • The boundaries come crashing down
  • Dancing to a different tune
  • Everything should be the same … or should it?
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4 1990–1999: A period of unprecedented change
  • The Celtic Tiger: A ‘tail’ of two halves
  • The Celtic Tiger and the marketing communications sector
  • 1990–1994: Easy as she goes for Guinness’s advertising
  • A hangover from the 1980s
  • There’s no time like Guinness time
  • New names, new beginnings
  • Let’s talk about sex
  • What is the point of the Big Pint?
  • Live life to the power of Guinness
  • Conclusion
  • Concluding thoughts
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Foreword by Patrick Guinness

Selling beer is different from selling a beer, as it depends upon consistent brewing. Until the late 1800s the family sold Guinness only within 10 miles of Dublin, requiring consistent agents to take it far beyond the city. The business grew but its centre remained at St James’s Gate, a vast but intricate clock serviced by several thousand Dubliners.

My first memories of the brewery in the early 1960s as a little boy were of huge brick walls, pipes, tunnels, steam and smoke, smiling faces, grubby overalls, a small train, barrels everywhere, a place with no centre. My genial tweed-suited grandfather Bryan was somehow involved in managing it all, and everyone said that it was special to Dublin. Gilroyʼs zany animal posters selling the stout also made sense because I knew that Grandad was a sponsor of Dublin Zoo. I didnʼt know that Bryan, as Lord Moyne, had argued against television advertising in the House of Lords in 1953–4, seeing it as an expensive and Orwellian method. Thankfully he was voted down, and Guinness ads were the second to be broadcast in Britain. He and the board also sponsored the Book of Records from 1955 as another marketing tool that has proved to be a huge success in its own right.

Aged 10, in 1966, I had my first full tour, which took three hours, and emerged onto the tall white grainstore roof from which the entire capital could be seen. Also in 1966 came the 1916 commemorations, so along with the Beatles and Percy French, I learned songs from a darker past. Other Dubliners had not prospered as we had, but still expected a better future. My parents’ friend Máire Comerford, a doyenne of 1916, pronounced that I was ready to join the Fianna scouts. To me, and perhaps my family, the brewery running its own bank, fire service, water, ships and trains, theatre, pool, pensions, sports fields, security, post office and health centres, was prospering and semi-independent long before 1916. Did I mention the zoo?

As we had no television at home in Kildare, childhood was face-to-face, local and unfiltered. Thankfully the wooden TV advertising of the 1960s passed me by. By the mid-1970s I was a student in Dublin, and beer and ←xi | xii→colour television became new aspects in my life. Everyone felt that Guinness was a good product, if not as edgy as lagers like Colt 45. Guinness TV advertising was indisputably funnier and more original than the rest. Each campaign resembled an art film or mini-series, using a soft-sell technique. This is the world that Patricia Medcalf captures so thoroughly, charting the evolution from the staid 1950s and working up to that magic moment when the brand name disappeared. The colours, sounds and mise-en-scène all whispered: ‘this must be the new Guinness ad’. The brand became implicit. The product vanished, as it was being sold in the subconscious. The brewery shrank from 3-D to a trickle of electrons between our ears. Co-founding the brand manager Diageo was the obvious next step. This magic was easier when there was one screen per household and only two to six channels, watched by millions of families. Recognising the latest Guinness ad before it ended became a family parlour game. Will this marketing focus ever be possible again? It was much easier than the internet, but thanks to the web those electrons have trickled backwards, and now millions want to see, smell and touch the 3-D brewery.

Dr Medcalf also skilfully weaves emerging Irish social themes around these evolving advertisements. Ireland had its real revolution in about 1990, and her timeframe of 1959–99 encompasses that moment. If the State often looked to the past, the people wanted a future, and Ireland suddenly outgrew herself, much as the brewery had outgrown Dublin. Yet in newer campaigns, traditional music and stout can still dreamily complement and adorn our elemental island. Desire, beauty, heritage; what more do we need?


The genesis of this book stems from my PhD, which was skilfully guided by my supervisor, Dr Eamon Maher. He encouraged me to embark on that journey and has been a source of encouragement ever since. Thanks also to Dr Brian Murphy for his frequent words of encouragement and for his feedback on my work. I am also very appreciative of the wider AFIS community in Ireland and France. Sincere thanks to Dr Eugene O’Brien and Dr Neil O’Boyle for recognising the book’s potential and for offering suggestions that would enhance it.

I am extremely grateful to Eibhlín Colgan and Fergus Brady at the Guinness Archive. They have been most generous with their time, expertise and resources. Without them, this book would not have been possible.

I would like to extend my thanks to Tony Mason, Senior Commissioning Editor at Peter Lang, who was prepared to give me the opportunity to publish my work. Special thanks to Patrick Guinness for agreeing to write such an evocative foreword.

I really appreciated meeting up with Ian Young, former chairman of BBDO (Dublin), who shared his own views on Guinness advertising with me. His insights were invaluable and reassured me that my analysis was on the right track.


XIV, 228
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (February)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2020. XIV, 228 pp., 25 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Patricia Medcalf (Author)

Dr Patricia Medcalf is a Lecturer in Advertising and Marketing at TU Dublin where she is course leader on the Bachelor degree programme in Advertising and Marketing Communications. She previously worked as Project Director with corporate and brand identity specialists Brand Union (formerly known as The Identity Business). Before that she was a marketing consultant with Siemens in Dublin and an account manager with Brann Direct Marketing in the UK. In 2004, she published the textbook, Marketing Communications: An Irish Perspective. Her PhD thesis analysed five decades of Guinness Advertising in Ireland. Recent publications in this area include a chapter in Patriomoine/Cultural Heritage in France and Ireland (2019).


Title: Advertising the Black Stuff in Ireland 1959-1999
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244 pages