What Diageo has learned from its marketing mistakes

Not every decision is going to be correct and you can learn as much from mistakes as successes, according to the drinks company’s top marketer.

Guinness is a brand associated with great creative. If prompted to recall the brand’s advertising some might offer the iconic ‘My Goodness, My Guinness’ line or the 1998 ‘Surfer’ ad. Few would plump for ‘Clock’, the 2012 spot that first used the ‘Made of More’ strapline.

‘Made of More’ was a purpose statement, an evocation of the Guinness brand – a beer of substance for people of substance. This, however, wasn’t entirely clear from the ad.

“Too metaphorical. Too different for different’s sake,” is the blunt conclusion of Mark Sandys, global head of beer and Baileys at Diageo five years on. The problem, he adds, is that it didn’t articulate the brand’s purpose: “A beer made of more that is for people who are made of more”.

The journey to find the brand’s purpose was one story tackled in a presentation delivered by Sandys and Diageo CMO Syl Saller at the recent Cannes Lions Festival. In a candid session, the two explained how some of its missteps, ‘Clock’ for example, has spurred it to better articulate purpose in ads while understanding that risks are worth taking in the pursuit of continuous development.

READ MORE: Guinness on how it is creating an ‘ageless’ brand

“We spent a lot of money on that ad and essentially that money was wasted but it didn’t do any damage to the brand because people remember the ‘Surfers’ ad,” Sandys says.

The next major articulation of ‘Made of More’ came during the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and featured Gareth Thomas, Rugby Union’s first openly gay star, talking about the loneliness he felt after coming out. Sandys, speaking to Marketing Week following the presentation, says the campaign worked “because it was true to Guinness”.

“Getting the Clock ad wrong allowed us to get it right with the Gareth Thomas ad, a risky ad to make in so many ways,” Sandys says. “However, it was credible for Guinness to do because it was set in rugby and rugby is our heartland. Because we have this history of storytelling behind us, people were therefore able to accept it, listen to it and take from it this sense of a more tolerant and diverse society.”

READ MORE: Rugby’s ‘niche’ status offers brands a huge opportunity

A 2011 campaign for Baileys, intended to ‘Make Women Shine’ using lines such as ‘Be a woman for life, not for applause’, was another highlighted as a misstep in the session. Baileys wanted to play the role of empowerment in female consumers’ lives, but it had no insight to suggest people would be OK with that.

Saller tells Marketing Week: “We really believe in empowering women but people didn’t want Baileys to help them shine. It goes back to insight, working out what you really want to say. Understanding how the consumer relates to you. What’s going to resonate with them? They wanted Baileys to be all about pleasure, that’s where we took the brand [following ‘Make Women Shine’ and that’s why it’s growing so fast.”

We shouldn’t be so quick to jump when people supposedly make a mistake.

Syl Saller, Diageo

Baileys purpose now is helping its consumers in ‘The Pursuit of Pleasure’, brought to life with food-related campaigns across social media. Perfect illustration that purpose does not have to be about contribution to the greater good, Saller says.

“Everyone is using purpose in a different way and not defining it. And a lot of people are defining it as just things that are worthy and good for society. Our definition is really simple; it’s why a brand exists. What does this brand contribute to the world?”

Misappropriation of the word ‘purpose’ risks fuelling a backlash that has already begun following criticism of Dove’s ‘Bodyshape’ bottles and Pepsi’s much derided Kendall Jenner ad. Saller hopes the volume of condemnation that met such campaigns does not discourage brands from playing their part in driving change.

“What concerns me about a potential backlash is that we as an industry can shape people’s views on diversity, on stereotypes by what we show in our ads. That’s been proven. And if we walk away from being diverse in our thinking and trying to bring people together and doing it with skill, I think there’s going to be an issue,” she says.

“The other thing I really care deeply about is that we shouldn’t be so quick to jump when people supposedly make a mistake. I personally don’t think of the Dove bottles as a mistake and even if it was then Dove as done a 100 really good things. If we really want to encourage risk-taking why do we jump up and down? Why don’t we go ‘I don’t like that one but well done for trying’.’’