THE TOUCAN: THE STORY BEHIND THE STRANGE BUT WONDERFUL GUINNESS MASCOT
Guinness, the most famed brand in the world of beer, is as old and classic as any other, but that doesn't mean they are in any way stodgy. In fact, they've been a playful marketing operation for generations. Most notable among this history is their campaigns throughout the midcentury when they took on a mascot as notable as Budweiser's Clydesdales.
That mascot is the Guinness Toucan.
In 1935, Guinness hired the advertising firm of S.H. Benson to give a boost to their marketing efforts. Lucky for Guinness, the advertising firm had just hired John Gilroy as a poster designer. Gilroy recounted that the Guinness family sought to avoid a campaign specifically about beer. They thought that would be vulgar, and they wanted to highlight the purported health benefits of the beer. Ultimately that led to animals. Gilroy then took off in that direction and produced an unbelievable assortment of zoo animals, including the famous toucan.
But it wasn't just the animals that made these posters famous, it was also the superb copy work of Dorothy Sayers. Sayers later became famous as a crime writer and playwright (and also for coining the phrase “It pays to advertise!"). She worked at the advertising agency while writing on her own in her spare time.
For the original toucan poster, she quipped:
If he can say as you can
“Guinness is good for you"
How grand to be a Toucan
Just think what Toucan do.
Not many beer companies would dare be as playful – and today, the regulators would probably never allow it. It probably helped that Brits needed some playfulness during the early years of these campaigns, given what was going on throughout Europe at the time.
Although Guinness left S.H. Benson for another advertising firm in 1982 and officially dropped the toucan as its symbol, the toucan posters and memorabilia are still produced. Although the animal posters are still beloved, the toucan became the most enduring and featured in the most ads. It really is tough to beat the look of two pints balances on that colorful beak.
Below are some other Guinness animal posters produced during the Benson era: