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The agency team's recommendation was twofold—and radical: First, introduce a new entity, Witnness, and not identify it clearly as a Guinness brand. Second, promote it through a series of rock music festivals. Witnness would be the rebellious son to the father Guinness.
Phil Bourne, CEO of KLP Euro RSCG, stresses that agreeing to launch a new entity and forgo the use of such a powerful and valuable brand name was a brave decision on the part of the parent company. The agency seemingly was asking the company to abandon both its brand heritage and its tried-and-true methods of marketing. The campaign strategy required the client to spend marketing money in ways very different from what it was used to. For Euro RSCG did not simply want to advertise this new brand—it wanted the target audience to experience and identify with Witnness. If Witnness was launched correctly, it would represent the new, young, rebellious, and outward-looking Ireland.
In meetings with the most senior-level Guinness management, the agency convinced the client that Guinness wasn’t abandoning its brand heritage. A critical step—and one that could not have been accomplished had senior management not been open to creative thinking.
Do You Know What Business You Are In?
Beyond Traditional and New Media
The creative concepts for the Witnness campaign came about through a collective process at the agency, a series of brainstorming sessions that included Euro RSCG people in the entertainment division, experienced pioneers in branding through festivals, the agency’s promotional team, experts in the drink market, and strategic planners. Another newsflash here:
The best creative thinking comes through collaboration.
The centerpiece of the campaign was the Witnness weekend rock festival.
Promotion was interactive in all respects. Guerrilla marketing techniques created a mystique around Witnness and encouraged active discovery; authenticity was built through word-of-mouth and underground, noncorporate modes. The agency created real-life irreverent stunts—from graffiti art to police-style incident boards placed at roadsides with cryptic references to Witnness.com. At the time, in-bar drink promotions that typically employed young models were quite popular. Witnness spoofed those with what it called “grannies vis-its”—women over the age of 65 made visits to Dublin’s hippest bars to distribute the Witnness URL. In addition, set lists for the upcoming concerts were “accidentally” left behind in bars. Clues were also placed in unexpected places and ways, such as dropping little plastic strips that read “www.witnness.com” in the pockets of clothing items sold at trendy stores.
To reach this well-educated and Web-savvy population, the agency team used the Internet as the primary communication vehicle for the brand. With its fully interactive media launch and extensive online coverage of the festival, Witness was the first branded music program to fully exploit the digital potential of the Internet. TV ads were used but they were unconventional, 10-second bursts meant to cause a stir.
The Witnness Rock Festival
The Witnness concerts proved to be a success that surpassed simple event sponsorship. The two-day-long outdoor festival featured five theme stages and a one-night party at Dublin’s Ambassador concert hall. A report published on the Witnness site describes the Ambassador event, held in July 2001:
For weeks Dublin has been abuzz with rumors about this gig. From sniffy “more-indie-than-thou” types on various online chat lists who had already worked out the guest headline band to excited enthusiasts with just an inkling of what was going to go down, there was no doubt that this was the hottest ticket in town for a long time. By 7:30 P.M. an hour before doors opened, the queues were five deep and stretched from the Ambassador down the street and past the Rotunda. It was clear from the outset that tonight was in a different class.13
There was an overriding sense among young people that the concerts and the upsurge of activity surrounding them were long overdue. BBC1 radio followed the performances closely: “Wilt front man Cormac told Radio 1 it was about time Ireland got its own big music event and as a Paddy, he’s especially pleased it’s sponsored by Guinness. ‘It should be good. I’m hoping the backstage area will be a Guinness free for all! That’s important!’ ”14 Witnness had successfully fused the traditions of the old Ireland with the new Ireland.
Do You Know What Business You Are In?
The goal, long term, was that a newfound affection for Witnness would translate into improved image for the Guinness brand, coming full circle. It has worked. In the first year of the initiative, decline in market share was halted for the first time in 20 years. Talk about a transformed marketspace . . .
The makers of Guinness were smart enough to understand that beer is only one part of their business. Guinness is also a face of Ireland, a brand intrinsically connected to that nation’s history and people and folklore. And, as the face of Ireland, the brand must evolve and grow as its national base evolves and grows. Witnness allowed the company to fulfill that brand promise for a new generation.