How many people would drink Guinness if it were not for its association with Ireland?
It might still be a known product, sure. Its following in Africa for example probably has little to do with its Irish origins. But for most people, the images of beverage and country are almost indistinguishable – despite it being owned by British-based Diageo. If you strip away the associations with Irish culture – or what people suppose to be Irish culture – what are you left with? No tradition, no fun-loving attitude, no music and mystery. Just a black drink with a bitter taste and weird texture.
Diageo should ruminate on this. Without the Irish market, there would be little enough market for Guinness.
Ironically these thoughts are prompted by an effort to regain market share in Ireland. I say share; I doubt that Guinness has declined much in total sales, but it remains associated with the more relaxed, conversational drinker. The biggest growth sector – the young, excessive drinker – prefers cider, lagers, alcopops, Buckfast. Any old shit in fact, as long as they can drink a lot of it quickly. It’s hard to drink Guinness quickly. The “Arthur’s Day” programme of concerts by fashionable and/or obscure bands is clearly aimed at attracting the younger crowd. But it threatens instead to kill the goose.
The debate continues elsewhere about what restrictions should be placed on the promotion of alcohol, whether it’s right to aim it at the young through sport or art or even entertainment. That’s not really the problem here though, so much as the sheer scale of Diageo’s vision. The original “Arthur’s Day” was a one-off celebration of the company’s product and history. No one objected to that. Where they overstepped the mark was in turning it into an annual event, virtually a national holiday. That is going a bit far now. Already they push the identification of brand and country to extremes, even to the point of using the national symbol for their company logo. But declaring a new feast day, that’s acting like they own the place.
It’s not a national holiday of course. It’s an enormous alcoholic drink promotion in a country that has an enormous alcoholic drink problem. Such a big event inevitably brings the issue to a head. (I’m sorry, it was unavoidable.) Guinness wants to project an image of Ireland as a land of happy drinkers, where the worst social consequences of alcohol use are perhaps a comical hangover, perhaps a jaw that aches from too much talk and laughter. And not, say, spousal abuse and suicide.
If you feel like registering your disapproval, you could visit the Boycott Arthur’s Day Facebook page.