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Good things and the art of waiting

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With the advent of digital medium and open social platforms, every other brand out on the street is talking about storytelling. But rarely does it happen that a brand campaign comes up with a narrative structure that fits the branding and storytelling like a sailor’s coat would fit Siamese twins.

The year was close to the end of the millennium. Digital was the word. Dotcom business model was still a-booming’. And a perfect pint of Draught Guinness beer would still take 120 seconds to pour yet people were queuing up for it. A brand from Grandpa’s war stories was cool again. It all changed with this advertisement.


The commercial opens in black and white with a tight close-up of a man’s face which is still and gazing upwards with a hint of wind fluttering his long hair. The narration starts with a male voice as the background music builds a sense of anticipation. The camera shows the man and his friends entering the water with surfboards while the voice over keeps on talking about waiting and the pounding music mingles with the narration to give us a glimpse of excitement and dangers that are about to come.

I don’t care who you are, here’s to your dreams

A dream-like sequence follows where huge waves approach with white horses emerging from the wave. The narrator exhales and we hear a loud cheer and laughter from the audience like they are cheering an old sailor who has returned to the bar room after accomplishing his dreams (Here’s to you, I have).When the surfers return, the music stops with rapid alteration of camera shot and freezing frames. As camera freezes on surfer’s face, it quickly cuts to the glass of Guinness with text on screen ‘Good Things Comes to Those Who…’ giving the viewer a headway to fill in the gaps instinctively.

Surfing the waves of success

The ‘Surfer’ commercial from Guinness was path-breaking in many ways. It had the pacey direction of Jonathan Glazer with the use of music that was unheard and exotic. The poetic and artistic construction of the advertisement was heavily influenced from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and probably a little from Samuel Coleridge’s long poem The Rime of Ancient Mariner. The white horses that came out of white froth of waves were inspired from famous 1893 Walter Crane painting ‘Neptune’s Heroes’ and the digital rendering of horses with waves had a rich cinematic quality. No wonder, it swept awards after awards at ad fests across the world-  Two Gold and One Silver from Clio’s in 2000, Two Gold at British Design and Art Direction in 2000, and One Gold Lion at Cannes International Film Festival in the same year. It was also voted the greatest ad of all time in the UK by Sunday Times readers and Channel 4 viewers in 2002.

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could bring that [painting] to life,’”

-Walter Campbell (in an interview to Adweek)

More than that, it distilled a fantasy of danger and achievement that everyone must have dreamt at some point in their life. Copywriter Tom Carty and Art Director Walter Campbell brought the slogan ‘Good things come to those who wait’ and connected it with the virtue of long waiting time when serving Guinness and ‘Good for you’ slogan from 1930’s. The decision of keeping the commercial in black and white resonated with the brand as it made the subliminal messages quite apparent to the viewers.

Evolution of Brand Guinness

Guinness was founded in 1759 but get into advertising only in 1794 (The Gentlemen’s Magazine). The legendary harp symbol that you see today was introduced and approved in 1862. It was only in the early 1930s that Guinness started hitting the consumer’s minds with H.S. Benson agency’s simple tagline ‘Guinness is good for you’ and ‘Guinness for strength’ where campaigns showed men getting ridiculous strength after drinking.Although after advertising regulations became more strict for alcoholic beverages and carcinogenic brands, the branding strategy from Guinness became more tongue-in-cheek( ‘Pure Genius‘ & ‘A Fish on a Bicycle’ Campaigns). Eventually, the campaign from Ogilvy and Mather “Not everything in Black & White make sense” helped Guinness return to its storytelling roots from early days of advertising.


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When waiting becomes celebration

The surfer commercial had its own origin and self-referential inspiration from an earlier work of Tom Carty and Walter Campbell for Guinness where an elderly swimmer swims across a harbor only to enter the bar to drink a pint of Guinness beer. The voice over evidently said that it takes 119.5 seconds to pour a perfect pint of Guinness and later showed in the film that it wouldn’t bother adventurers and thrill seekers as they knew that ‘Good things come to those who wait’.

The ‘swimmer’ ad also went on to win Creative Circle Gold (1999) and British Television Advertising Awards (1999) among others. This helped the stout beer manufacturers take another risk to go for a longer, expensive and more self-consciously artistic commercial that was ‘surfer’.

Although ‘Surfer’ worked on many levels, yet even AVM BBDO and Guinness could not replicate the success of ‘Surfer’ in their next campaigns. The reason it is still considered as one of the best TV commercials because it brought the notions of obsession, risk and a history of seafarers together with aspirations, dreams, excitement and physical prowess which appealed to the target market of youthful drinkers. It flipped the idea on its head that the youth was all about fast-paced lifestyle and might not seek enjoyment in anticipation.


Ad Campaign: Good things come to those who wait

Agency: AMV BBDO

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Copywriter: Tom Carty

Art Director: Walter Campbell

Creative Director: P. Souter


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