Award: Graphite Pencil / Branded Content & Entertainment / Branded Content & Entertainment - Non-Fiction 1-5 mins /
With rival Heineken taking over their sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup, and challenger brands increasing market share by the day, Guinness was facing competition from all sides. It would take a monumental piece of filmmaking for the Diageo-owned brand to win the hearts of Rugby World Cup viewers, and convince them to drink Guinness.
The long-standing relationship between Guinness and AMV/BBDO goes back nearly 20 years and has produced some of the most talked about ads of all time. Having moved on from ‘Good things come to those who wait’, the brand was now using ‘Made of More’ as their strapline and guiding principle – or ‘platform’.
Guinness Rugby – Gareth’s Story
Planning Director Steve Hopkins introduces the thinking behind the platform, “’Made of more’ was to be used as a platform to celebrate an attitude around having character, substance and integrity, about not being afraid to make you own choices.”
The conceptual territory of ‘integrity’ and ‘authenticity’ had been encroached upon by up-start craft beer brands over the past five years. Guinness felt they needed to remind people of their brand heritage, and what it stood for.
As Hopkins explains, craft beers have “interesting human origin stories that create conversational currency, and people enjoy sharing those stories when they’re having a pint. Guinness needed to be authentic as well and tell authentic stories of their own.”
By using documentary film, they would demonstrate integrity through telling true stories and using the medium of choice for on-trend brands.
The first big example of this thought was ‘Sapeurs’. It told a true story of men in the Republic of Congo through short commercials and a longer online documentary film. It became a huge talking point, and won six D&AD Pencils. The success of this series convinced the agency that the Made of More platform was a winning idea.
SAPEURS by Guinness
The technique of creating an above-the-line commercial, and offering subsequent content online was a strategic decision particularly relevant to pub go-ers. Hopkins explains why, “when people feel they have a certain degree of information, and then find out more, then they know something that other people don’t know. It then creates that additional conversational currency.”
With the format agreed upon, and winning-over the Rugby audience in their sights, it was time to find a story to tell.
The move towards branded content in documentary format immediately affects the process of ideation, as Hopkins explains, “The nature of creative development becomes a process of researching what the most interesting story might be.” This offers up intriguing new job roles, “We employed a guy who was an expert in all-things rugby to come up with long-lists of the stories we might want to tell”
For this World Cup campaign the list included a team from Antarctica who called themselves the Ice Blacks, and a referee in the South Pacific who walked through miles of jungle to get to each match. But the final decision was to focus on Welsh captain Gareth Thomas and his struggle to go public about his sexuality. Thomas had recently become world’s first openly gay rugby player.
The team took a bet that competitor brands would be using physical challenges in their advertising around the World Cup. So they wanted Guinness to outflank them, by focussing on the mental and social challenges.
Gareth Thomas’ coming-out story was developed and scripted by creative team Mike Crowe and Rob Messeter. With the client in agreement, they approached Thomas, who at this stage had no idea they had been working on a script for him.
It could have been an abrupt ending to the idea, but fortunately Thomas responded positively. Guinness Account Director Tess Brisbane recalls the conversation, “He was really pleased that someone wanted to tell this story, he wanted the opportunity to make a statement and encourage others to not be afraid to follow in his path”
Having already made appearances on Ellen Degeneres' and Oprah Winfrey's shows in the USA, Gareth was used to talking about the issue. But he was keen to spread the message further. The more sportsmen and women that heard his story, more might be inspired to take the positive choice he had.
Creative team Crowe and Messeter describe their approach, “Part of the key is to figure out what the best stories to tell are, and the other thing is to not get in the way of those stories by layering on too much creativity.”
“We wanted to live up to the heritage that AMV had with Guinness. And for us that was often a visual spectacle that makes that memorable. But every time we tried to go down that route it felt contrived. So then you ask – how can you create something that still has an epic quality to it yet doesn’t lose any of the authenticity?”
The key to this would be in the choice of production partners. Because of the two-pronged nature of the campaign, a 60-second commercial and a longer documentary, two filmmakers were brought in on the project.
First was Hollywood director John Hillcoat. Famous for directing Cormac McCarthy adaptation ‘The Road’, Hillcoat also has a reputation as a music video director for the likes of Placebo, Muse and Nick Cave. He was selected for his ability to work with talent, and produce epic looking films. Hopkins remembers watching him work, “He had a natural skill of handing famous people. It was interesting to watch that director-actor performance work out between them. Gareth was natural in front of the camera, and I think John was a big part of that”.
For the longer, five-minute documentary, specialists The Tubby Brothers were brought in.
Emphasis was placed on ensuring Gareth’s story was told as naturally as possible. In developing the script Crowe and Messeter had spent a lot of time watching interviews with Thomas. This was then adapted when they met him. So his interview was a mixture of a pre-prepared script, and carefully considered prompts.
The biggest debate in the production came around language. As Messeter remembers, “We had a debate about whether we used the word ‘gay’ in the commercial. It was such an unusual thing to make a commercial with this story, that we felt if you didn’t use the word ‘gay’, we were trying to tip-toe our way around the subject. We didn’t want it to feel exploitative or sensationalist.”
But the most challenging aspect of the production became the music choice. John Hillcoat was a friend of Nick Cave, and conversations with him were on-going over a number of months. But the results didn’t click. In the end they settled on a Ludovico Einaudi track, as Hopkins explains, “We wanted to find a tone that was emotive and inspiring but without being manipulative”.
The two films, now titled Never Alone, were released simultaneously on YouTube, with the ad spot also featuring as a pre-roll. A preview ran on facebook to tempt people onto YouTube to watch the full documentary.
Brisbane justifies the use of YouTube as a no-brainer, “When it comes to long-form content YouTube is really the place that makes sense. On YouTube people are more likely to stick with your content, they’re not in a ‘scrolling’ mentality.”
The big moment came with a road-block TV media buy during the Wales vs England match on June 28 2015. The result was that over 23 million people saw the TV spot. This figure was matched in online views, with a further 1.4 million going on to watch the documentary.
But arguably the biggest success was the response online, as the YouTube comments demonstrated:
"True hero, it's not hard to come out when you have nothing to lose, the real tough thing is to come out when you risk your whole life, your passion, and your family. This guy is a real man!"
"Gareth does Wales proud. Thank you Guinness and Gareth for this beautiful message of hope."
"Inspirational! Well done Guinness. A brand that stands out from the rest. Can't express how happy this makes me feel that a company has put itself out there in such a proud situation."
As hoped, the spot caused conversations to take place around the world. Simultaneously, during the tournament more Guinness was drunk than the official Rugby World Cup sponsor Heineken. For Hopkins a happy client meant a job well done, “They couldn’t have been happier. They felt that losing the rugby association was a real threat to their business at the time. And the press were unanimous at Guinness’ success.”
The spot went on to achieve many awards, including a D&AD Graphite Pencil in Branded Film Content and Entertainment. But for everyone involved in the creation of Never Alone, it was a commercial with real-life implications. This is a fact Hopkins is keen to stress as he signs off, “Diageo were really proud of the effect that it had had on people and the world, as well as their business.”
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