Iconic Ads: Guinness – Surfer

Walter Crane - Neptune Horses

Surfer has been voted one of the best ever advertisements in the world

In 1997, Abbott Mead Vickers (AMV) pitched for the Guinness account. Ogilvy & Mather, creators of such classic campaigns as “The Man with the Guinness,” had been the agency of record for the brand for the previous decade. However, Andy Fennell, the brand director, recalls that the brand’s performance was “lacking slightly” when he joined Guinness. And despite his best efforts, O & M were unable to make it work.

The message was clear. “Not everything in black and white makes sense,” was the campaign’s tagline at the time. It was not working, and Guinness had to go to the core of the product—what it stood for.

The objective of the pitch was to accelerate the growth of the brand—the “product truth” that would spur sales was sought out by four agencies who were part of the process.

The pitch was generating a lot of buzz at Abbot Mead Vickers BBDO. The pitch for Guinness was late, but David Abbott allowed Walter Campbell in since he knew Walter wanted to work on the legendary Irish brand, despite his abstinence from alcohol.

When he saw the brief, Walter understood why everyone else had been working on it for the better part of a week.

A tinge of fear crept over him. Advertising campaigns that propelled Guinness into a more mainstream audience were the focus of the brief. That said: “The Guinness extended pour time shouldn’t be stated, since the dwell may possibly be a potential barrier to a younger clientele,” it said.

Typical of all creative agency people, the moment you are told not to go to a place, they will figure out a way in.

“Pour,” Walter realised, was an important and unique component of the Guinness experience. He had seen the desire in the eyes of his Guinness-loving buddies as they stared at the mug, waiting for the beer to settle. Having a desire for the outcome of the wait, but also a desire for the wait. Both the legendary slogan “Guinness is good for you” and the longer pour time had been on his mind. When the phrase “Good things come to those who wait” arrived, it instantly struck him as a fitting way, to sum up that musing.

Walter presented his thoughts to Abbott. He was apprehensive since he was going against a crucial instruction in the brief. Fortunately, Abbott’s face was happy as the plan evolved into a line and then into concepts.

Walter kicked things off with “Swim Black.” A game of trying to break every rule while yet telling the story seemed like fun knowing the constraints on what AMV couldn’t convey in a beer commercial — no sport, swagger, success, or skill. To Abbott, that little bit of bravery and defiance was just the right amount to enliven the performance without going into too much detail. Following Abbott’s approval, the phrase “Good things come to those who wait” was adopted.

CEO Andrew Robertson and AMV founder David Abbott made the presentation to several Guinness executives, including the CEO.

They had scheduled a two-hour meeting, but Fennell claims that he knew they had chosen their new agency after only 25 minutes of talking to each other.

Using the headline “Good things come to those who wait,” AMV capitalised on the reality of the time that it takes to pour a pint of Guinness. As AMV’s Walter pointed out too, Abbott had developed a few lines that used the word “good,” such as BT’s “It’s good to talk.” and lines like these provided the inspiration.

There were seven minutes of strategy, followed by a few scripts for TV advertising and posters that were meant to convey the product’s reality entertainingly. For the first and last time in his career, Fennell commissioned a script “as it was presented” for a commercial named “Swim Black.”

There was also a poster of a person sitting on the beach and waiting for the right wave to come his way. It is not clear whose idea it was to make the poster into a film. However, Swim Black was chosen to go first, followed by Surfer.

The fact that Surfer was created is due in large part to the popularity of Swim Black. It was a commercial triumph, Fennell adds, smashing all of its internal expectations, thanks also to the debut of Guinness Extra Cold at the same time. However, the first ad’s success gave both the business and the agency the confidence to go forward with Surfer.

For the initial pitch, AMV had shown concepts as long copy ads which were to be later evolved into scripts to illustrate that the concept might work in print. The most dramatic picture was a Polynesian surfer with his surfboard over his knees and a gaze in his eyes that appeared to scan out to sea forever. In the photograph, the surfer seems to be practically wishing a utopian moment into being.

“I would want to make something with surfers,” said Andrew Fennell, referring to the surfer print. “We are now working with some of them”. Walter set off for Cornwall the next day in an attempt to locate those individuals. Walter didn’t even know that there were surfers in Cornwall back then – in fact, he didn’t even know that they existed. After a few minutes of searching down the shore, he came upon this group of young men, all of whom seemed to be having a great time and loved what they did. “We’re all fantasising of the ideal wave, and one way or another, we’re going to go on a huge,” he stated one wet morning with an anticyclone off the shore while sipping tea from a plastic flask. Those lines were perfectly aligned with each other.

However, this does not imply that the commercial was a breeze to put together.

Imagining what may cause such a beautiful wave was the last piece needed to truly embrace the mythology of the event. For a time, the thought that a pod of whales, giants that would swim together and drive this rushing mountain of water, would generate this gigantic wave sounded compelling. Walter had a good idea of what this would look like in CG and how it might be done.

He was also preparing to film “Swimblack” with director Jonathan Glazer at the same time. It occurred to him that a pub owned by one of the brothers in the commercial might have a motif based on Neptune, a sea deity. There were images in his mind of him being carried by an ocean monster that may have been depicted in carvings on the bar. In the course of looking for pictures of Neptune, an 1893 painting by Walter Crane with horses coming from the sea surface popped up. He immediately recognised this as a surfer’s image and determined that “Surfer” would be the next Guinness film with that component in place.

It was critical to pay attention to even the smallest of details. However, he discovered that the horses would seem to be flattened when they were filmed against a blue background. He informed Glazer that, in order to restore the horses’ musculature’s definition and add a touch of flamboyance and Bernini-esque drama to their appearance, he would have to bring them in for hair and make-up services. Producer Yvonne enlisted the help of some of the greatest long-range surf weather experts in the business to help her pinpoint the exact locations and times of the most extreme waves. They couldn’t do this in post-production since that would make CG waves appear unauthentic. This was really important. On the first day of shooting, the waves reached a height of 30 feet.

Rachel, Glazer’s fiancee-to-be, was an exceptional horsewoman and even recommended the best breed for us to jump. They were able to get what they needed with barely a slight stampede but it took three days.

Originally, Walter had envisioned a Polynesian surfer. Campbell made it apparent that he wanted somebody unknown, not an Irish actor. “You don’t need to inform folks that Guinness is from Ireland to enjoy it.” Finally, Glazer discovered a great guy on the beach after a long-term quest. He was charismatic in a timid, easygoing manner, but he wasn’t a great surfer. Rusty K, the longboard surfer, was cast in the 60-second spot because he was a close friend of Glazer’s and he didn’t want to make the commercial too polished. After the incident, it has been highlighted that Rusty was not an expert and seemed to be in fear at times.

Indulging in the thrill of stalking between the enormous rollers, director Glazer and DOP Ivan Bird got pictures that gave the film’s beats a raw and gorgeous sense.

The script also draws inspiration from Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick, including the line “Ahab says, ‘I don’t care who you are, here’s to your dream.'” (which does not appear in the novel).

Copywriter Tom Carty worked with Campbell on the film. The Computer Flick Company in London handled the VFX.

It was then on to the music as the next obstacle to overcome. Campbell believed that he listened to roughly 2,000 tracks. Walter and Johnnie Burn (sound editor) were working on songs one morning when Nick Morris, a producer from Academy, walked in and introduced himself. A tune from the film Breaking the Waves was a particular stumbling block for them, since they were unable to locate it on any of the band’s previous releases. He was surprised to learn that he had a personal connection to the film’s music source. You know who he is: Peter Raeburn Surfer’s head sounds like ecstasy and he knows he may die out there on that wave, so they brought him in that afternoon and told him they wanted the sound of the surfer’s blood pumping in his brain.

All of Raeburn’s 20 songs which he brought were excellent. Phat Planet by Leftfield, on the other hand, was a standout. It was in sync with the picture. It was only because Raeburn was a close friend of the band that they were able to hear the song before it was released. (According to reports, a Velvet Underground/Pink Floyd song was also under consideration).

They enlisted the services of Louis Mellis, the voice behind “Swimblack,” to read the script for “Surfer”. The tone of Seamus Heaney’s poetry readings was evoked at Walter’s request, which was delivered in the form of a narrative to an old friend. Louis did a fantastic job. The film was released, and amazingly, much of it was precisely what they had envisioned.

The whole production also required self-assurance. Nearly half of the ad’s total budget went for post-production and the inclusion of the horses. Fennell confessed to even questioning the need for the horses due to their high price. However, AMV remained steadfast.

Fennell recounts that there were several moments when he and his team had the option of making simpler decisions, but instead chose not to. In Surfer, “all the stars aligned and it simply worked.”

When individuals worry about what the public thinks, they tend to dilute their thoughts and concepts. Surfer fared quite poorly in research. In spite of the fact that Guinness did nearly did not approve of the film, it was released.

A survey held by Channel 4 and The Sunday Times in 2002 picked the film as the “greatest commercial of all time” after it was created by Nick Morris and had a budget of £6 million.

The commercial is still relevant twenty years later.



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