by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President, Industry Relations, MCI
A Black and White Issue?
The furore around Arthur’s Day now stretches from domestic dining tables to the snugs of public houses, from office canteens to staff rooms in schools, from the letters pages of the broadsheets to the screaming headlines of the tabloids. It’s all over Twitter, Facebook and The Journal and Christy Moore’s anti-Arthur’s Day song is all over YouTube. There appears to be a ground swell of negative sentiment that this is a cynical marketing ploy by Diageo, the global corporation that owns the Guinness brand. There’s lots of self-righteous weeping and gnashing of teeth about the detrimental effects of alcohol and not too many voices are chiming in with positive commentary, other than those paid by Diageo.
Check out the A&E
Undoubtedly there is a disgusting, ugly underbelly to the drinking culture that prevails in Ireland today, prospering, particularly but not exclusively, amongst under age teenagers and young people in their twenties. Diageo’s Director of Corporate Affairs for Europe, Peter O’Brien, has been challenged to visit the Accident and Emergency department of Dublin’s public hospitals on Arthur’s Day to see first-hand what drink can do to people. He probably doesn’t need to go there at all as most Irish people have first hand, direct experience of the devastating impact that abuse of alcohol can have on families. It’s kind of part of who we are and, unfortunately, as predictable as a politician’s broken promise.
Mixed Messages from Government Circles
The ambiguity within the political spectrum is nicely highlighted by Ciaran Hancock in today’s Irish Times. He quotes Minister Alex White who labels the day as “contrived” stating “Diageo has invented Arthur’s Day as a pseudo-national holiday for the purposes of marketing its products – especially to young people” but Hancock then references other occasions, notably recent visits by Queen Elizabeth and President Obama, when government ministers chomp at the bit for photo ops drinking Guinness with the dignitaries.
The Dangers of Drink
I fully acknowledge the dangers of the demon drink and appreciate the analysis that leads the likes of Christy Moore, The Waterboys and my own buddy Andrew Basquille to pen clever anti Arthur’s Day ballads. However, I’m more and more uncomfortable with the head of negative steam around the event, particularly as there’s no acknowledgement whatsoever of the fact that, for the vast majority who won’t disgrace themselves or miss work next morning, Diageo has created a brilliant event.
Since its inception 5 years ago, in commemoration of the 250 anniversary of the leasing of St James Gate by Arthur Guinness, Arthur’s Day has evolved into a full scale showcase of Ireland’s talent and creativity with over 500 musical events taking place in pubs all over Ireland. Headline acts more accustomed to playing large venues and stadiums – The Script, Kodaline, The Manic Street Preachers and many others – will perform in pubs providing a rare, up-close-and-personal opportunity for lucky ticket holders to see them. The Guinness Storehouse will be transformed into a creative hub providing a shop window for a plethora of cultural and commercial projects which have applied to the “Arthur Guinness Projects” initiative for support.
Brand Association and Profiling
For Diageo, and for Guinness, the entire Arthur’s Day campaign is, without doubt, an excellent exercise in brand association and profiling. Sometimes regarded as an “Old Man’s Drink”, Arthur’s Day will allow Guinness to connect with a new emerging demographic and be linked with cool stuff like music (overall there’s an “indie” feel about the line up), edgy cultural initiatives, people celebrating etc. Arthur’s Day is indeed a brand and experiential marketing exercise but is it really any more cynical or dishonest than Pfizer’s Ageing campaign in the US, any L’Oreal advertisement or the Old Spice viral that everyone loved?
Guinness and Dublin
Nobody is mentioning, either, the extraordinary socio-economic legacy of Guinness in Dublin City which stretches right back to its origins 250 years ago and which, conceivably, might merit annual celebration in the shape of a toast to its founding father! The bricks and mortar side of this legacy can be seen today all over the city – Farmleigh, St Stephen’s Green, Ivy Gardens, St Patrick’s Cathedral to name but a few. The more enduring legacy, however, is probably in the hundreds and thousands of families who benefited from a benevolent, philanthropic employer who lived “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) centuries before it became a trendy corporate buzzword.
I’ve listened to the ballads and I’ve read the critiques and, all in all, Arthur’s Day is not a matter of black and white. So while I further cogitate on its merits and demerits I’m lifting my glass of creamy porter and offering my toast “To Arthur”.
Padraic Gilligan works for MCI, a global communications and events company. He lives in Dublin and enjoys an occasional pint of Guinness. Credit to my buddy and business partner Pat Delaney for the genius headline above