Not everything black and white makes sense, I hope I don’t get into trouble over intellectual property issues with that statement.
For many people, the advertising campaign it relates to will be long forgotten but for me, the era that campaign aired for Guinness was as poignant as any other in the 41 and a half years I’ve been on this earth. The 16 year old me growing up in Northern Ireland was completely fascinated by beer, in my bedroom my walls were covered in beer mats, it was illuminated by neons and branded signage, my GCSE project was a motorised POS installation for a famous lager brand and my ceiling had a giant Guinness poster covering more than half of it. Guinness held a special place in my heart, it was unconditionally Irish and famous all over the world, the branding looked stunning and its television adverts were a humorous and disruptive intervention to the normalcy of the political and sectarian landscape in the country. It was 1996 and the first time I ever really dissected advertisements to try to understand the message and why they were created. There was one which depicted women in typically masculine roles which culminated in a fish riding a bicycle and one which looked at the relationship of man and woman through the portrait of a gay couple both of which were not a normal message in 90’s Ulster. I completely got it, Guinness was seen as an older gentleman’s beer, heavy, a meal in a glass, everything lager was not and something not normally drank by the younger crowd. For me as a Guinness drinker (at just 16) I knew it was just as accessible as any lager which I also loved.
I understood the message was to try to get people to look at Guinness differently and to understand that maybe it wasn’t how people perceived it. The way Guinness portrayed that message seemed like a game changer to me and cemented Guinness’ place as my favourite beer brand at the time. I dreamed of doing it myself, owning my own beer brand and creating advertisements and POS as unique as Guinness’ but it was always dismissed as pipe dreams that would be impossible for me to realise as the established brands were so big, so smart and owned so much of the market.
A little over a decade later in 2007 I had since moved to England and had just taken up a role working for Guinness, a dream job to the 16 year old me but I wanted more. A decade further after that, Jamie, Ian and myself had met and combined (with Simon in 2019) with the ambition of opening Manchester Union Brewery.
In our inaugural year, the first beer Ian brewed that wasn’t our main pilsner was a black lager. We all LOVED it, malty chocolate with hints of raisin and liquorice and a hoppy finish as dry and refreshing as our core lager brand. Sales weren’t so great though, we surmised that too many people look at black lagers and think, too heavy, a meal in a glass, a beer for the older gentleman and absolutely not like lager. I find it exciting, challenging & thoroughly gratifying that we now face this same problem I mused over as an adolescent, the same problem Guinness solved so beautifully – not to mention successfully.
This lager is here to stay, even if we have to drink it ourselves, which we gladly will.
We might not be able to match the budgets but we certainly do the resolve. We know the beer is good, if our only problem is that most lager drinkers don’t understand what black lagers are and how great they taste then now our only job is to tell them.
Our launch campaign has altered somewhat during tier restrictions and lockdowns and instead of the launch we had been planning we are using our first batch of cans to highlight the venues of Manchester who have been impacted even harder than our own industry. We’re looking at the night time music venues that have barely been able to operate at all since March and it could be a full year before they can. QR codes on cans take drinkers to the venus’ livestream pages, radio stations, ticketing sites or social media accounts to help push awareness of forthcoming gigs or information. If we only make even a small difference we’ll be very happy to have helped in our own little way. Then, when bars and pubs are back to normal, we’re coming full bore with our message of flavour and taste and refreshment and lager. Where can I find that fish that rides bicycles?