Commentary

Guinness' Arthur's Day Faces Stout Opposition

In the great tradition of Hallmark Holidays such as Boss’s Day, a few years ago Diageo’s Guinness brand invented a festivity out of whole hops to celebrate 250 years of its stout. It called it Arthur’s Day after the founder of the Dublin-based brewer, who died in 1803. Today is Arthur’s Day worldwide. 

“Marketing experts have admired the slickness of Arthur's Day as a promotional campaign, but Diageo has been on the defensive all week, with representatives making regular radio and television appearances to justify the event,” according to a Reuters piece running on NBC News’ website this morning.

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"It's a fantastic example where we bring together three great things in Ireland — a great brand in Guinness, the pub, which is an iconic part of Irish culture, and music," Diageo spokesman Peter O'Brien told the Newstalk radio station, the report continues. 

Instead of exchanging cards in the :30 spot that introduced the concept in 2009, two young men in a pub propose a toast “to Arthur.” The sentiment spreads virally through the streets of Dublin and then to plazas and mountain valleys throughout the world.

But if you Google “Arthur Guinness Day 2009,” you’ll not only get the ad with the well-mannered celebrants raising a hearty toast but also street scenes such as this and this and this of young people in their cups. It’s no wonder, as the Irish Times reports, that the day has resulted in a 30% increase of ambulance calls in that country.

“It is plain to see for anyone who has ever wandered the streets of Dublin, Cork or Galway, stepping over the rivers of urine and vomit which flow freely, and dodging the rows that break out as closing time looms just what impact Arthur’s Day can have,” writes Conor Pope.

Alex White, Ireland’s deputy health minister, tells the Financial Times’ Jamie Smyth “that he regretted Diageo’s decision to invent what he described as a ‘pseudo-national event’ for the purposes of promoting alcohol to young people.”

The criticism, Smyth observes, “reflects a significant cultural shift in a country that for many years has eulogized Guinness and pubs, which are important draws for tourists” and “comes amid a frenetic lobbying campaign as Dublin considers imposing a minimum price on alcoholic drinks and curbs on alcohol advertising and sponsorship of sports events.”

The opening page of the Arthur’s Day section of the Guinness website (once you get past the sign-in page for your country and age) touts “32 countries, 500+ free music events, 1,000+ music acts, creative showcase events.” 

A recent :60 spot posted on YouTube invokes Arthur’s “Projects,” if not his Day in particular, with an upbeat celebration of “the new artists, the new poets, the new players” … “the next generation” of the “new Ireland.” There’s nary a sot in sight, of course, just a lot of creative energy.

A new song by Irish folksinger Christy Moore has a less exalted view of the hallowed founder, however.

“He's the patron saint of porter canonized by the Advertisin' Men,” Moore sings in “Arthur’s Day.” The chorus:

Happy Happy Happy Happy Arthur's Day
Its such.... a Happy Clappy Advertisin Scheme
Drink sensibly they implore us, as their Hosannas sound a never-ending chorus
'n kids get hooked on the fantasies that flash before us

Other artists, including Mike Scott, the founder of The Waterboys, and Steve Wall, the lead singer with The Stunning, are also protesting the promotion, Douglas Dalby reports in the New York Times

“Paint the town black? My town is already black with unemployment, shootings, depression, a lack of paying gigs and a lack of Irish artists on daytime radio,” The Daily Edgereports Wall wrote on his Facebook page. “No thanks Diageo ... go paint your own town black. We need some light.”

“Diageo said Guinness was showcasing emerging Irish music talent by offering them a stage at over 500 music events,” Evelyn Ring reports in the Irish Examiner. “Diageo said it had implemented a responsible drinking awareness campaign around Arthur’s Day and gave clear advice to pubs creating their own events.”

The company also said it will pay for an additional police presence on the streets but stopped short of footing the bill “for alcohol-related illnesses that stem from the day’s drinking,” as some have suggested it do,” Louise Kelly reports in The Independent.

“The reality is people make choices, and some people choose to over-drink, and they end up in A&E [Accident & Emergency Room],” according to Diageo’s European corporate relations director Peter O'Brien.

And sometimes a company chooses to over-promote and winds up in the ER itself.

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