The Magazine's review of advertising
Opens like many drink ads before it
THE PRODUCT: Guinness
THE BRIEF: Emphasise the perception that the drink is different and somehow "special".
WHAT'S GOING ON: There's one drawback to having produced some of the most memorable advertising ever made.
For while viewers might remember the dancing eejit, fish riding bicycles, old men swimming, and most famously giant white horses crashing out of the surf, the challenge will always be: "Top that."
What original wheezes, unlikely images or stylish treatments could ever compete with the memory of past glories? It would almost be like being asked to come up with new twists for James Bond movies.
But drinkers become cavemen
Lucky then that Guinness hired the man behind the opening sequences of the past five Bond movies to direct its new advert, which started showing on TV and in cinemas this week.
The 50-second commercial begins on familiar territory, with three blokes sipping pints in a normal-looking pub. But the instant they drink, time switches into fast rewind, and we follow them walking backwards through evolution.
The city around them becomes forest again, the men become Neanderthals, go through the ice age, valleys turn back into plains, and the three - now apes - become crawling things, then fish, then mud-dwelling bugs.
The story is explained by the familiar slogan "Good things come to those who wait", one of the brand's masterstrokes which made a positive out of what could be seen as a disadvantage (i.e. that it seems to take forever to have a pint poured). Using an old slogan like this is unusual, but since the company is also currently re-using its classic toucan posters, perhaps not surprising.
The music is playful - Rhythm of Life from the musical comedy Sweet Charity, sung by Sammy Davis Jr - and the mood is the same. Frozen in ice, our chaps look around, wide-eyed, at these weird goings on. And when drinking from the fetid pool, one bug winces with disgust.
"You know what this creature drinks, this disgusting muck," says director Danny Kleinman, he of the Bond movies. "And you are really pleased that you can get a Guinness, you are left feeling relieved that you are not a primordial creature in the mud."
It's a highly polished piece of work, which cost more than £1m to make. It's not hard to see where the money went - repeated viewings reveal an astonishing depth of detail. Ideal fodder for a TV society where, thanks to Sky+ and PVRs, adverts can be easily skipped. Why would anyone want to avoid this advert when it's so rewarding to watch it again and again, the logic goes.
In case anyone was looking for a nod towards intelligent design, that's about as much as you will find here.
That the mood of the film is semi-comic, when it could easily have been arty and moody, like the horses, is one of the most interesting aspects.
Georgina Meddows-Smith, marketing manager for Guinness, says it's a return to the kind of humour that was seen with the "dancing man" advert. It shows, she says, that while sometimes its ads are serious, the brand has "a fully rounded personality".
Guinness sees itself as being the kind of item that will say something about the character of the drinker - a "badge product". Arty, thoughtful, original, amusing - well, that would do for most people.
To lay observers, speaking about the personality of a product is likely to spark snorts of derision. If you think a drink has a sense of humour, whatever that might mean, are you really more likely to buy it?
Evidently so. We're talking about a company with decades of experience at this business, which so believes in its approach that it's spending £15m on the campaign of which this advert is the main part. It's probably safe to assume it knows what it's doing.
Ad Breakdown is compiled by Giles Wilson.