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Volume 20 No. 42
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Guinness’ ode to ‘bond of friendship’ produces a viral hit

Terry Lefton
We’ve long considered beer an endemic category in sports. As such, any consumer of sports telecasts has quaffed more than his or her share of beer ads. Unfortunately, we’re used to an ocean of mediocrity when it comes to beer creative.

That’s what makes the most recent ad from Guinness one of the most arresting on television.

With a media buy set against NFL, MLB and across ESPN programming, the ad depicts a gritty, aggressive, sweaty and wildly competitive game of … full court wheelchair basketball among friends. Competitors fall out of wheelchairs onto the floor, elbow for loose balls and aggressively jockey for position under the boards. It’s a contentious combination of street ball and motorsports.

A week after the ad's Sept. 5 debut, it had 4 million YouTube views.
But then, as the game ends, only one of the wheeled hoopsters remains in his chair. The other players, fully ambulatory teammates, get up out of the chairs after playing with him — not out of pity, but to support their friendship.

Like any good advertising, it imbues emotion where there really isn’t any: for example, like into a glass of beer. “Dedication, loyalty, friendship. The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character,” states the voice-over in the copy from agency BBDO. There’s the obligatory finish with a “beauty shot” of an artfully drawn pint and the wheelchair hoops group raising glasses at a pub.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s as simple as Googling “Guinness” and “basketball.” It would be hard to find anyone with a heart who wouldn’t consider
this piece of creative an artistic triumph. A week after the ad’s Sept. 5 debut, it had 4 million YouTube views. “We knew pretty quickly that it
was resonating,” said Doug Campbell, director of marketing for beer at Guinness parent Diageo.

Update the numbers of last week and there were 13 million YouTube views, quite a testimonial. Still, if you’ll pardon a mercenary question: Does it sell beer at a time when most beer brands are losing share to spirits? Some friends, who consider themselves experts in both sports marketing and beer, kicked the issue around one night on Facebook. Yeah, this was a conversation that could never be truncated to fit across 140 characters: art versus commerce. There was as much contention among our group as there was among those wheeled basketballers.

Turns out, it was all about dimensionalizing brand attributes to an audience of 20-something beer drinkers. The wheelchair basketball ad, now also running in Canada, Jamaica and the U.K., was the first in the U.S. under the Guinness “Made of More” campaign.

“There are so many beer ads with numbers or with only shots of beer being poured,” Campbell said. “Research told us that the bond of friendship over Guinness is what makes it special, so we made a conscious decision to go with more of an emotional impact and try to emphasize the bond of friendship in a different way.”

The concept tested well against drinkers of Guinness and other brands, and it was filmed over the summer in a Los Angeles gym after a day in which the wheelballers got to know each other’s games.

Any marketer would get excited about procuring a viral hit. As for the ad’s efficacy? While not revealing any specific numbers, the brand says its early research indicates that the ad is changing consumer attitudes about Guinness.

“We test whether you are giving consumers new information about the brand and whether we are provoking an emotional reaction that will drive memorability,” said Campbell, adding that both those measures are strong.

So how long can the viral hit play and still remain effective? “At least until the end of the year,” Campbell said. Remember, Guinness competes against some of the biggest marketing budgets in sports.

“The message has to do the work for us,” Campbell added. “In this category, we are not going to blow anyone away with our spend.”

Thankfully, we’re promised that this creative triumph won’t be spoiled by a wheelchair basketball sequel. We’ll drink the beer of your choice to that.

> SON OF BEACH: Looking to support its sponsorships of the U.S., Canadian, and Chinese Olympic committees, Hilton Hotels is staging a beach volleyball tournament among the world’s top players at its Hilton Hawaiian Village resort in Honolulu on Nov. 16-17. The Hilton HHonors Beach Volleyball Challenge round-robin tourney will include top performers, such as Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross on the women’s side and Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal on the men’s. In the U.S., it will be broadcast in early December on NBC Sports Network and Universal Sports, along with Canadian and Chinese TV outlets.

Hilton owns the property and has made it self-liquidating by bringing in other sponsors, including Citi, Visa, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hawaiian Airlines, Bud Light Lime, Vitaminwater and the Hawaiian Tourism Authority. USA Volleyball and the FIVB sanction the event.

Disson Sports & Entertainment of McLean, Va., created the event and handled the TV negotiations. The Marketing Arm stages the event. It’s an expansion of last year’s tourney, which included only the U.S. and China.

“We’ve been able to boost awareness of our Olympic sponsorships and we’re also looking to open up Hawaii to Chinese travelers on their way to and from the U.S.,” said Scott Brennan, Hilton’s vice president of global strategic partnerships.

Hilton will support with digital and email campaigns.

3M wants its tape to get on a roll with NFL fans.
> TD = TAPE DISPENSER: After an absence of more than 20 years, 3M is back in the fold as an NFL licensee. The marketer of Scotch brand tape hits retail next month with a line of helmet-shaped, team-logoed dispensers for a standard roll of 3/4-inch Scotch Tape, priced at $14.99. Every team will be represented, but as with other NFL licensed products, retail offerings will be regionally based. Initial distribution is set for big box office supply stores such as Office Max, Office Depot and Staples — all three chains will get POS displays. Regional mass-merchandise retailers and retail sites are expected to be added before the end of 2013, with national mass merch chains and NFL team shop distribution expected in 2014.

Kathy Magill, 3M marketing manager for stationery products, said that with little growth in the core office market, 3M was looking for “more expressive tape products.” A dispenser shaped like a high-heeled shoe, launched in 2010, was a huge hit among women. 3M was looking for a similar dispenser for men; a football helmet tested No. 1.
3M signed an NFL license in August.

Coming next year are football-shaped, team-logoed Post-It dispensers at the $14.99 price point. Also under consideration is team-logoed Scotch Tape and Scotch Duct Tape.

Terry Lefton can be reached at