John Gilroy for Guinness: Four Corners and Some Vision

posted on 15th Aug 2018 by Lorna McWeeney

Long before ‘The Compton Cowboys’ trotted on to our screens, before the ‘The Dancing Man’ mesmerised us in 1994 and even before those wonderfully bizarre Rutger Hauer ‘Pure Genius’ advertisements of the 80s, came the revolutionary talent of John Gilroy.

John Gilroy, an art director with London agency S.H. Benson, transformed the Guinness brand, introducing witty and heartening posters that still endure. For 35 years, Gilroy produced over 100 Guinness press advertisements and more than 50 poster designs for our favourite porter with slogans such as Guinness for Strength, My Goodness, My Guinness and A Lovely Day for a Guinness making it into our vernacular.

By understanding how his artistic style and wit could leave a lasting impression on an audience, Gilroy revolutionised the Guinness brand. Former Guinness brewer and author of several books on Gilroy, David Hughes, wrote: “His philosophy was [that] somebody sitting on the top deck of a bus going past a hoarding should be able to quickly recognise the poster. You had to keep it simple, high impact, colourful, amusing. It had to be memorable. The white background was important to him because he didn’t want the eye to be distracted.” These trademarks were at the core of the success of Guinness adverts for three decades.

Guinness is Good for you posters

In 1928, Guinness’ managing director, CJ Newbold, engaged the ad agency S.H. Benson to come up with a campaign and so the inimitable Guinness is Good for You was born. The slogan remained the foundation of the brand for the next 40 years. Its success was hampered, in the end, only by advertising regulations.

 

Gilroy had been trying to develop a Guinness family for a new campaign when he paid an auspicious visit to the circus. The Geordie artist became inspired by a sea lion balancing a ball on his nose and, with a little artistic licence, created one of the most iconic posters of all time. Zoo animals became a consistent theme in Guinness advertising well into the 1950s with the menagerie growing to include an ostrich, a tortoise and of course the toucan. Gilroy himself featured in this series as the hapless, moustachioed zookeeper.

 

  • Guinness for Strength posters

 

The “Girder” poster was the consumer-favourite of the “Guinness for Strength” campaign that depicted men performing feats of incredible strength assisted, of course, by the black stuff.

Tucan poster.
First featured in a 1935 ad from Gilroy’s zoo animal series, the toucan became almost as synonymous with the Guinness brand as it’s 1862 harp.

Guinness archivist, Eibhlin Colgan, credits Gilroy with creating a legacy within Guinness advertisements. “The little twinkle in the eye that Gilroy brought to Guinness really set up the brand for all the amazing advertising that followed.” In terms of branding, John Gilroy was ahead of his time. Through stragtegically consistant typography and style, which was not common in the advertising of the 30s, Gilroy was instrumental in creating engaging ads that helped create what arguably became the best-known beer worldwide.

Lorna Mc Weeney | Junior Packaging Designer
Lorna is a Junior Packaging Designer with Neworld Associates, a brand agency with over 30 years experience. We immerse ourselves in your industry, your customers, your competitors and your business goals to create design solutions that will guarantee to boost your bottom line.

John Gilroy in his studio