Analysing an Advertising Campaign: Towards an Integrated Cultural-Industrial Analysis


by Neil O'Boyle
 University College Dublin

Sociological Research Online 14(4)12

Received: 2 Apr 2009     Accepted: 19 Jul 2009    Published: 31 Aug 2009




This article critically examines an advertising campaign for Smithwick's ale that is known as the 'locals' campaign and was televised in Ireland throughout the 1990s. My intention is not to 'explain' the campaign but to suggest an analytical approach that captures and preserves its sociological complexity. The article is divided into two parts and the analysis is built primarily around the interview accounts of producers of the campaign. In the first part I suggest that the 'retelling' of the Smithwick's 'locals' campaign not only animates a variety of sociologically significant themes in Ireland but also reveals some of the cultural assumptions of its producers, especially regarding Irishness. In the second part I switch my analytical focus to foreground the inherent 'uncertainty' of advertising expertise and the asymmetrical power relations which characterise the advertising industry. From this perspective, I suggest that Irishness is a malleable ingredient of advertising production that often has little to do with what producers 'believe', or even necessarily what consumers want, but is largely shaped by the exogenous pressures put on advertising agencies, such as the demands of the client company (in this case Diageo). However, the article concludes by highlighting the benefits of a 'synthetic' approach that incorporates different modes of analysis with a view to building an 'integrated cultural-industrial analysis'.

Keywords: Advertising; Producers; Campaign; Irishness; Critical; Production; Integrated; Industrial; Analysis



 1.1 This article examines an award-winning advertising campaign for Smithwick’s ale that was televised in Ireland throughout the 1990s and is referred to as the ‘locals’ campaign. My analysis is built primarily around the interview accounts of producers of the campaign[1], specifically a creative, an executive, a freelance planner and a marketing manager,[2] and forms part of a broader study of cultural production in Irish advertising. The article is divided into two parts: In the first part I suggest that the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign (discursively re/constructed here) animates a variety of sociologically significant themes in Ireland, such as migration and changing modes of masculinity, and provides a useful vantage point from which to examine the cultural assumptions of advertising producers. The comparisons made below between the “rural pub” and “urban bar” and the description of Smithwick’s and Guinness as “siblings” not merely illustrate how advertising producers intervene in the circulation of meanings about Irishness but equally highlight the selective and limited ways these workers borrow from wider discourses of Irish identity. Although the ‘Irishness’ of Smithwick’s and Guinness are contrasted in these accounts, I argue that this distinction is largely illusory. Indeed, I suggest that the “sibling” metaphor is doubly fitting; though putatively different, Smithwick’s and Guinness share a cultural genealogy that enshrines an essentialist and ethnocentric notion of (a largely male) Irishness. Furthermore, as both brands are owned by the same ‘parent’ company (Diageo), their association can reasonably be described as familial.  

1.2 In the second part of the article I switch my analytical focus from text and language to context and power relations. In doing so I argue that irrespective of what the “retelling” of the ‘locals’ campaign reveals about their cultural assumptions, one’s analysis of producer discourse (and texts) must foreground the commercial logic of advertising production and the uncertainty of advertising work. My analysis in this respect is influenced by the tradition of viewing advertising as “uneasy persuasion” (Schudson 1984), a tradition that emphasises the fundamental ambiguity of advertising “expertise” and the concomitant need to “professionalise” advertising discourse. Schudson points to the uncertainty, difficulty and frustration of advertising work, which is addressed in more recent studies of advertising production (e.g. Alvesson 1994; Cronin 2004; Nixon 2003). This grounded, contextual approach is also the hallmark of critical production studies of film and media, such as that by Caldwell (2008). Caldwell is expressly interested in the “indigenous” interpretative frameworks of local production cultures yet he insists that the accounts and expressions of producers must be regarded circumspectly:  

Going to industry to “get it right” is valuable to a certain point, but such an approach fails unless we see and consider such expressions as embedded within broader cultural commitments, economies, and industrial traditions that in turn inflect and transpose those very expressions (Caldwell 2008: 14).

1.3 A critical production perspective draws attention to the metaphors, discursive tropes and justificatory frameworks of advertising producers and highlights the conditions of constraint under which these workers perform. As I argue in concluding this article, the eventual decision to abandon the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign, which it seems was instigated by Diageo, provides a useful illustration of the asymmetrical power relations which underpin this industry and highlights the often precarious position of advertising agencies. It also suggests that while abstract or esoteric knowledge (in this case cultural knowledge) is fundamental to both the autonomy and professional stature of advertising producers, it is an unstable source of power that is always open to jurisdictional dispute (cf. Covaleski 2003).  

1.4 This article highlights the importance of culture and context in advertising and draws particular attention to how cultural knowledge and professional “know-how” are linked in producer discourse. In other words, the “retelling” of the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign examined here functions not only to “locate” these producers as cultural beings but must also be considered part of the promotional discourse of this industry. The analytical approach adopted in this article reflects the often disconnected modes of researching advertising yet suggests, following Caldwell (2008), that consideration of different modes in dialogue or “critical tension” can be used to build a more “integrated cultural-industrial analysis”.  

Insiders and outsiders

      2.1 This article derives from doctoral research that investigates the social processes, occupational cultures and work-based identities of advertising producers. As someone who has worked in the advertising industry (as a media buyer, client services executive and business developer), my approach, whilst not precisely ‘auto-ethnographic’[3], is nevertheless shaped by a tacit and experiential understanding of advertising production and industry vernacular. As a practitioner of advertising I became interested in the social and cultural dimensions of this industry. As a researcher I was interested to explore if issues of identity are as important in the production of advertising as they putatively are in its consumption. Specifically, I wanted to explore how the identity assumptions of producers find material expression in the advertising texts they collaboratively engineer but also, more broadly, how their identity knowledge is codified as expertise.  

2.2 As a past practitioner in advertising I was confronted with the dilemma of being both insider and outsider; on one hand, possessing ‘penetrating discernment’ (Merton 1972) and privileged knowledge unavailable to the casual observer yet on the other hand, arguably more liable to overlook significant minutiae of practice and discourse through over-familiarity. Hence, my research brings acutely to light the complexity of being both ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ to varying degrees.  

Every investigation is therefore situated between two extremes doubtless never completely attained: total overlap between investigator and respondent, where nothing can be said because, since nothing can be questioned, everything goes without saying; and total divergence, where understanding and trust would become impossible (Bourdieu 1999: 612).

2.3 In choosing a methodological approach that would ‘locate’ me as a white Irish male (who formerly worked in advertising) yet also foreground the behaviour and accounts of my respondents, I was drawn towards ‘grounded theory’ (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Daymon and Holloway (2002: 117) point out that grounded theory is ‘both a set of research procedures and the emergent theory that develops from that research’. This approach is inductive and aims to build theory rather than test it. Nevertheless, grounded theorists do not form a uniform school and this theoretical/methodological orientation has been challenged both from within and without. The approach to grounded theory adopted in this research follows the Straussian line towards constructivist assumptions/epistemologies (Strauss 1987; Charmaz 1995; Locke 2001; Clarke 2005). The research is also informed by ethnographic and micro studies of production in advertising and marketing (e.g. Alvesson 1994; Cronin 2004a; Moeran 1996; Nixon 2003; Schudson 1984; Tunstall 1964) as well as critical production studies of film and media industries (e.g. Caldwell 2008; Holt and Perren 2009).  

2.4 In attempting to illuminate the cultural practices and unearth the cultural assumptions of Irish advertising producers I compiled three detailed case studies of award-winning Irish advertising campaigns (one of which examined the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign) using a variety of qualitative data-collection methods.[4] When constructing case studies I proceeded from an initial textual analysis of the advertising to consider supporting materials where available and finally, I interviewed the producers of the campaign. This process was supplemented by participant observation of industry events and gatherings as well as textual analysis of trade press and agency websites. Twenty-one interviews were conducted, with an approximately even split between male and female respondents. This combination of methods helped to build a more complete picture of the advertising production process but also enabled me to critically examine the self-reporting of respondents (as well as legitimately incorporate my own experience).   

2.5 A final point is worth noting. Although I did not set out explicitly to focus on gender, the significance of this category at both textual and occupational levels gradually emerged. For example, the target audience for all of the brands in the sample [5] reveals a male bias and an age profile of (broadly) twenty-five to thirty-five as well as ‘psychographic’ similarities (i.e. mindset, attitude etc.). To a limited extent this heavily masculinist sample of advertising points to the emergence of a culturally and generationally specific (male) Irishness marked by a more confident articulation.[6] However, the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign examined below also suggests the persistence of entrenched modes of masculinity. Interestingly, both Smithwick’s consumers and producers (including females) seem to construct the pub as largely male. Although I lack the space here to sufficiently probe these suggestions, the ‘locals’ campaign nevertheless illustrates extremely well the insider/outsider dynamic that is a cornerstone of modern advertising. Indeed, the term “locals” encapsulates this idea in the implied indivisibility of people and place.  

The Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign

    3.1 Smithwick’s is a red ale that was originally brewed in county Kilkenny, Ireland. In 1965 the brand was sold by Irish Ale Breweries to Guinness and both brands are now part of the portfolio owned by Diageo, the largest multinational beer, wine and spirits company in the world. The Smithwick’s campaign examined here is referred to as the ‘locals’ campaign and was voted ‘Best Irish TV Series’ at the 1997 Shark Awards. The awarded series featured three commercials titled ‘Local’, ‘Granddad’ and ‘Festival’, although over thirty commercials were made during the entire ‘locals’ campaign. In his book The Importance of Being Branded (2006) John Fanning, the Chairman of McConnell’s advertising agency, offers a rich and often humorous account of the development of the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign. He suggests that whilst the Irish beer market was formerly ‘a relatively simple affair’, in the 1970s things changed dramatically with the arrival of ‘lagers from a sophisticated continent increasingly familiar to a more cosmopolitan generation’ (Fanning 2006: 87). Despite a number of failed marketing attempts during the 1980s, Smithwick’s continued to lose market ground and by the early 1990s the brand’s share fell below ten per cent. Fanning describes how at this point an effort was made to revive the brand, which involved the use of external consultants and multiple kinds of research. Of the various exercises undertaken, a day-long session with Smithwick’s ‘loyalists’ (as Fanning describes them) was to prove most insightful:  
This all took place on a Saturday in a more central hotel where between sixty and seventy Smithwick’s loyalists from all over the country were assembled in one of the large conference rooms. The marketing department and agency teams intermingled with the respondents and the sense of drama was heightened by the mass of lights, cameras, microphones and wires as the entire proceedings were filmed. Respondents vied with each other to grab the microphone and tell their own “Smithwick’s story”. As the day unfolded a remarkably coherent pattern emerged. A Smithwick’s man – there were no women as the brand has the lowest percentage of female drinkers of any beer – was intensely loyal to the brand, in spite of the inevitable slagging he received from companions who drank stout or lager. They were also very conscious of the brand’s declining fortunes and were bitterly critical of the company behind the brand for its neglect. The more they let off steam – and at times the atmosphere resembled a religious revival meeting – the more it became clear that the Smithwick’s drinker saw himself as a beleaguered minority unfairly derided by the rest of the world but secure in the knowledge that the rest of the world was out of step and that he could see through the phoniness and pretensions of stout and lager drinkers. Smithwick’s was an uncomplicated brand, beer was an uncomplicated category and they were uncomplicated people. A pint of beer was a social lubricant, not a deeply meaningful statement about themselves (ibid. 86).

3.2 Fanning explains that the above discovery resulted in a very precise marketing strategy and in 1995 it was decided to ‘consolidate the existing brand loyalists’ (ibid. 87) or target Smithwick’s “adorers”, as other respondents tend to describe them. The principal creative working on the campaign similarly explains that the key target audience for the ‘locals’ campaign was “males in their twenties, early thirties, with kind of a rural bias” (11.07.06).[7] Hence, the Smithwick’s man and his habitus were the primary focus of the campaign.  

3.3 The three awarded commercials in the ‘locals’ campaign (‘Local’, ‘Granddad’ and ‘Festival’) were filmed in the ‘Gravediggers’ pub in Glasnevin, Dublin, and show very little character variation between them. All three dedicate as much attention to the pub itself as to the events unfolding; in fact, the first is entirely given to depicting the pub. In each commercial the camera pans across a dark and dusty partitioned pub with stained glass windows, abundant wood, simple bare walls and hanging lights. It is comfortable looking but very basic, devoid of neon glare and contemporary flair. The camera glimpses cliques of intimates (presumably the ‘locals’) gathered in pockets around the sparsely filled pub. They have amiable though somewhat impassive faces. The air is still and the light bleached, creating an almost mystical tranquillity that engulfs the place. Echoing Fanning’s wry analogy to a ‘religious revival’ above, there is an air of reverence and respect here and one would be forgiven for thinking that the pub is considered ‘sacred’ terrain by these people.  

3.4 In the commercial titled ‘Festival’, for example, the camera pans across the Gravediggers pub, offering cursory glances of its assorted inhabitants. The soundtrack is energetic and fast-paced, with a violin keeping the tempo. As a young man places a unicycle against the wall of the bar a voiceover announces; “Once a year for festival week the whole place would go mad”. The camera cuts to a long-haired man juggling three pins. We see two young men (their faces familiar from the ‘Granddad’ commercial[8]) shake their heads as they observe the carryings on about them as if to say; “what’s this nonsense all about?” Even the voiceover seems to concur, sarcastically continuing: “It was filed under art”. The camera cuts to a carnival mask in Punch and Judy style, lying discarded beside a half-finished pint of Smithwick’s. We see a little Jack Russell sitting on a bar stool wearing a large, frilly circus collar; then a young woman playing a violin surrounded by a scattering of people. Finally, the view settles on a mime artist wearing a bowler hat, striped shirt and jacket, with a little yellow flower in his breast pocket. He is intently reading a book at the bar and there is a small brown teapot placed in front of him. The ‘Granddad’ from the second advert is sitting close to him, eyeing him with a mixture of curiosity and bewilderment. A younger man in the company of the older gent encourages the latter (inaudibly) to ask the mime artist something. After several moments hesitation the old man addresses the mime artist: “Sorry for butting in but do you mind me asking, what do you do?” he asks earnestly in a strong Dublin accent, as his younger companion peers at the mime artist over his friend’s shoulder.

“I’m a mime artist”.

“He’s a mime artist” the old man says turning to the younger man beside him.

“Do you know what mime is?” the mime artist inquires in a friendly tone.

“Yeah” the young man replies, speaking for the first time in a Northern Irish accent; “mime’s a pint”.

The old man laughs into his pint and the mime artist, with an exasperated expression, lifts his eyes to the sky before returning them to the page in front of him. 

‘Are you going for a pint?’ fills the bottom right hand corner of the screen.


3.5 In one of the chapters in his book John Fanning documents the background and production of the ‘locals’ campaign and writes that ‘the solution in the case of Smithwick’s was very much dependent on an acute understanding of the personality, mentality and motivations of existing users of the brand’ (2006: 88). The freelance planner working on the campaign attributes this strategic insight or “eureka moment” directly to John Fanning:  

“What John would say happened, certainly the eureka moment, which he would credit as being the agency’s and credit as being himself, along with a few other people […] was a realisation that Smithwick’s was effectively a provincial brand rather than a parochial brand, and that within the provinces was what he would see as that kind of Patrick Kavanagh sensibility of talking, of what is happening in their world at that time actually being incredibly important, that it has significance. And he would have quoted in particular the poem Epic at the time and, you know, the local row […] Gods make their own importance and maybe the Iliad and such” (19.07.06).

3.6 The above respondent, like Fanning, employs psycho-social notions of “mentality” and “sensibility” and stresses the importance of place – the locale as well as the ‘local’. The reference to Patrick Kavanagh’s poem Epic, which centres on a local feud, is reminiscent of Tomlinson’s (1999: 9) suggestion that despite globalisation, ‘local life occupies the majority of time and space’. This idea strikes a particular chord in Ireland. O’Connor and MacKeogh (2007: 98) point out that sociological accounts of community in Ireland (e.g. Tovey 1985) have generally adopted a network approach emphasising strong links to territoriality and face-to-face communication. Since the 1990s, economic turnaround (and more recently severe downturn), Europeanisation, globalisation and ethnic diversity have challenged the myths underpinning ethnicity and nationalism in Ireland (Cadogan 2008: 5). Nevertheless, the binds of place and community remain especially strong, evidenced in Ireland’s clientelist and localist model of politics (Mac Éinrí 2006). Murray (2007), for example, suggests that despite the combined processes of globalisation, deterritorialisation and cosmopolitanism, the influence of location on identity remains particularly strong in Ireland. Murray insists that the claims of some authors, especially by ardent supporters of ‘cosmopolitanisation’, exaggerate the effects of transnational processes on local communities, which are bound by space and time. In the above interview excerpt the importance of spatial and cultural proximity is equally stressed. This is crucial because it is on this basis that the producers of the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign differentiate the impersonal environment of the urban ‘bar’ from the spontaneous, organic nature of the rural ‘pub’ and it is on the back of these distinctions that broader constructions of Irishness are made. This constant layering of cultural associations is used to carve a distinct identity for Smithwick’s and to suggest propinquity between brand and consumer.  

3.7 In the following passage the creative on ‘locals’ insists that the focus of the campaign was not Irishness but rather the sociality of pub-going men. In emphasising the latter he contrasts the social relations of urban bar culture (people arriving and remaining in isolated packs, occasionally venturing out into the impersonal collective) to the tacit confederacy of the local pub:  

“In proper local pubs what you have is you have people who meet within that pub and they don’t meet anywhere else. So you know, for instance, you can go down at ten o’clock at night and you will meet Sean or Paddy; he’s gonna be there and one guy can be a doctor, one guy can be a barrister, one guy can be a plumber and that this is where you meet and what happens outside those four walls doesn’t really count so it wasn’t so much an exploration of friendship or even Irishness […] it was an exploration of the pub […] of a proper Irish pub, and the friendships that actually happen within that” (11.07.06).

3.8 Above, the creative describes the pub as a sort of egalitarian, pluralistic refuge that divests individuals (or specifically men) of externally imposed, inhibitive categorisations. The pub facilitates and encourages relations across backgrounds, occupations and ages. While this respondent is keen to emphasise the pub rather than Irishness, it is clear that one is inseparable from the other. What is distinctive about the pub described is that it is ‘Irish’ first and foremost; it is this fact that engenders other distinctions. The respondent describes the “proper” local pub as one that promotes an equality of drinking men and wherein social masks are cast aside. Men here can relate without social labels and it is almost as if the mystical properties of the place itself fertilise these bonds.  

3.9 For the producers of the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign the ‘pub’ is considered a proxy (and conduit) of rural Irish society. This might be related to the work of Share (2003) and Scarbrough (2008), both of whom draw on Oldenburg (1999) in conceiving of the pub as the archetypal ‘third place’: ‘For Oldenburg, the role of the third place is to provide continuity, regularity and a sense of place, all of which contribute to the construction of the self, the projection of the self within the public sphere and the generation of collective identity’ (Scarbrough 2008: 58). In many respects, the contrast with the urban ‘bar’ is also reminiscent of Ferdinand Tonnies’ (1957) classic comparison of Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society or association):  

‘Community’ equals family life, unity, Volk, communal and rural life, non-differentiated life, religion, church, household economy and agriculture. In contrast, ‘society’ equals urban, metropolitan life, national life, politics, state, cosmopolitan life (as in public discourse and intellectual life), and, last but not least, modern trade, industry and science (Hess 2007: 13).

3.10 This division gives primacy to the local community in both spatial and social terms. In fact, these are intertwined. As Thomas (2000: 34-5) indicates, the social construction of identities (including race and ethnicity) is a ‘spatial phenomenon’ which involves the simultaneous ‘construction of places’. In describing Irishness off the back of the abovementioned pub/bar distinction, the producers of the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign contrast an ersatz, cosmetic present with a more authentic, “real” past that is rooted in rural Ireland. Again, this suggestion is hardly novel. Johnson (1993), for example, argues that orthodox nationalist historiography locates the root of collective Irish cultural consciousness in the west of the island, which is constructed as a repository of Gaelic language and values and which in turn provided the cultural matrix used to define a de facto Catholic ‘Irish-Ireland’ in direct contrast to Britain. For the producers of the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign, however, the relevant contrast is between Smithwick’s and Guinness. Although Guinness is globally emblematic of Irishness, they insist that Smithwick’s represents a more ‘authentic’ kind:  

“I think [Smithwick’s is] Irish and that’s interesting because it’s not ‘Oirish’, it’s not the way Guinness can be. It is actually Irish, it is real Irish […] I think it’s realistic maybe […] I think it’s kind of grounded” (19.07.06).

3.11 In the above respondent’s opinion, Smithwick’s does not entertain artificial notions of Irishness that pander to global stereotypes but is grounded and unaffected. Continuing, this respondent stresses what she considers the inherent realism of Smithwick’s, via a comparison of the brand’s advertising and that of Guinness:  

“Like at the time there would have been a view that advertising needs to be creative, it doesn’t need to be about real people sitting in pubs having chats [laughs] […] It needed to be about dancing pints and you know, waves coming in and whatever. You know, Guinness in particular […] driving that sense of the need to be creative and the need to kind of transcend consumer’s reality” (19.07.06).  

3.12 Above, the respondent contrasts the Guinness advertising approach of the late 1990s and that of Smithwick’s. For the former, it was important to “transcend” the mundane and the quotidian. For the latter, it was precisely these that were (and are) the essence of the brand. Her reference to “real people” is used as an attack on creativity that has lost sight of social actualities. Likewise, the other producers on the campaign continually employ terms that suggest realism and authenticity; they speak of “real” Ireland, a “real” country pub, a “proper” Irish pub, a “down-to-earth” brand, an “unpretentious” drink etc. Continuing, this respondent insists that Smithwick’s advertising is “grounded, it’s dry, it’s Irish, it’s true, it’s based on true things, it’s reportage” (19.07.06). Here, she appears to have become so thoroughly engrossed in her own rhetoric that she describes Smithwick’s advertising as “reportage”. Nevertheless, her purpose is to emphasise the brand’s putatively grounded, grassroots perspective and in the following passage she makes a direct link to the land itself. When I asked this respondent; “are you saying that the Irishness of Smithwick’s is more authentic than that of Guinness?” she is wholly affirmative:  

“[Guinness is] more mythological […] on one level. It’s an international version of how we want ourselves seen. It’s projective in all of that. I think ours is a grounded Irishness, I think it’s a soul versus an aspiration in a way. It’s a deeper place. I saw somebody do a good presentation on Smithwick’s once […] it talked about Guinness being the spirit of Ireland and Smithwick’s being the soul. I think that’s interesting. I think there’s something interesting about Smithwick’s as soul. But I think it’s part of Smithwick’s problem in standing out, because it’s almost […] I remember going into a pub and looking around at the colours […] [all you see is] mahogany. Like Smithwick’s really is invisible in a pub because it is the pub.   You know, if you think of it kind of in cultural terms, it’s the peat, it’s the bog […] it’s hard to see it against the Irish landscape” (19.07.06).

3.13 Smithwick’s, the above respondent insists, is accepting of its history, its status and its small town associations. For her, the Irishness imbued in Smithwick’s is of a “deeper” kind. Even the spirit-soul distinction suggests something consistent and perennial. While the spirit can be flighty, evanescent and somewhat superficial (as in ‘the spirit of the times’) the soul is lasting – it conveys a sense of permanence. She insists that the difficulty with depth of this kind, however, is that it is almost indiscernible; it is everywhere and nowhere. Unlike more shallow aspects or traits, the soul is not as easy to extract. Indeed, the colour of Smithwick’s blends into the mahogany tones of the pub. For this respondent, therefore, Smithwick’s does not merely signify or symbolise but is itself part of the essence of Irishness. It is the pub, the peat, the bog and the landscape. The implication here is that when drinking Smithwick’s one is not simply consuming ale but imbibing the very “soul” of Ireland.  

3.14 Adopting a slightly different perspective, the brand manager develops the idea of ‘brand as person’,[9] providing a useful example of how brands are reified and personified by producers. Reification provides a means of infusing abstract entities (such as brands) with material characteristics, which in turn permits respondents to invest these with human qualities (i.e. anthropomorphism). In this case the brand manager offers an interesting comparison of Smithwick’s and Guinness as “siblings”, describing the latter as a confident, worldly charmer while the former remains reliable and respected yet ultimately unappreciated. In this passage the respondent also implies that Smithwick’s success, while Guinness was faltering, was negatively interpreted by Diageo and ultimately resulted in a reinvestment in the Guinness brand (see following section).  

“Think of Guinness and Smithwick’s as part of the same family. Like Guinness is the sexier older brother, who is, you know, tall, goes off to America, charms everyone, brings a sense of Irishness that he kind of creates as he goes along but it’s just very confident, you know, comes back a lot but he’s just a real charmer […] and then he’s got a younger brother at home, or it could be his older brother – it doesn’t matter – but who is quieter, doesn’t leave the town, you know, is dependable. The town people who know him really know him but with strangers it takes a long time to get to know him, salt-of-the-earth kind of thing, definitely overlooked. But it’s almost like that what has happened with this business is that the company gave the older brother the big house and my Smithwick’s guy got left with the turnip patch in the back corner” [Laughs] (14.09.06).

3.15 Above, the brand manager contrasts the ad hoc Irishness of Guinness with Smithwick’s steadfast commitment to roots, implicitly constructing the latter as more expressive of genuine Irishness (and relating to the distinction between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ above). This passage offers an especially good example of how advertising producers not only portray their brands in human form but also insert these into complex, emotional narratives loaded with historical meaning. This respondent implies that Guinness (as person) has emigrated, not from necessity but rather as the confident choice of one captivated by the instantaneity and cultural cosmopolitanism of the ‘New World’. Guinness has voluntarily abandoned his homeland while Smithwick’s has remained true to his people and place. Yet contemporary Ireland symbolised by Diageo (the ‘multinational’ corporation), it would seem, has rewarded the voluntary émigré, leaving its loyal and dependable son thankless and relegated.  

3.16 In this part of the article I have pointed out some of the ways that the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign animates a variety of sociologically significant issues in Ireland. From the perspective of the Smithwick’s male consumer, for example, it might be asked why the image of the solid yet not wholly successful brother is appealing. One gets a sense from the campaign’s producers that these individuals cherish their local heritage and value loyalty to one’s family and community. This can be related to the work of Mike Cronin (2007), who investigates how certain cultural-national modes of masculinity are being redeployed to bring the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) up to date in terms of evolving notions of masculinity as well as growing corporate interest in the sport. Cronin explains that the GAA has remained a staple feature of community life in Ireland since the late nineteenth century and that despite its consummate ability to update and market itself, it remains a somewhat unchanging, irredentist force representing a particular brand of Irish nationalism. Regardless of the changes brought about by Ireland’s advanced modernisation, therefore, the GAA remains a central part of Irish community life:  

The spectacle of highly skilled players competing ensured its popularity, but more importantly, its organisation around the parish system powerfully ensured that it would become part of the daily fabric of life at the heart of small communities (Cronin 2007: 41).

3.17 Cronin’s analysis of the GAA points to some of the ways that Irish companies and institutions (to which we might add brands) are attempting to preserve national ties while also accommodating change. Cronin shows how the GAA successfully repackaged itself to capture the confident globalism of the Celtic Tiger period while also reinforcing an ‘imagined ‘organicism’ that bound country and city, parish and nation’ and which ensured that ‘the GAA continued to prosper as a safe repository for a traditional, yet largely uncontroversial, Irishness’ (ibid. 42, 43). This insight is particularly fitting in the context of this article. The comparisons made between the “rural pub” and “urban bar” and the description of Smithwick’s and Guinness as “siblings” demonstrate how advertising producers both draw from and intervene in the circulation of meanings about Irishness but equally show the limits of this, in particular the routinisation of commonsense or hegemonic understandings (see Moriarty 2005). Though putatively different, Smithwick’s and Guinness share a cultural genealogy that enshrines an essentialist and ethnocentric notion of Irishness.  

3.18 While the current literature on Irishness reveals its contingency, instability and constructedness (e.g. Lentin 2001; Mac Éinrí 2004; O’Toole 1997), this has not lessened the commercial value of narrow cultural claims. Despite their immersion in the global cultural miasma, their astute understanding of multinational business and industry dynamics, and their familiarity with the latest in international communications technology, Irish advertising producers continue to propound what Susan Wright (1998) has described as an ‘old’ idea of culture, which implies that culture is a bounded and largely complete way of life that is highly resistant to change. Although frequently critical and dismissive of “traditional” Irish culture, these workers readily fall back upon a narrow (revivalist) version of it, sometimes within moments of championing the new Celtic Tiger “go-getter”. Elsewhere I have suggested that advertising producers also commonly assert that as a people the Irish have retained a unique “wit”, a natural “groundedness” and a distinctive “psyche” (O’Boyle 2008). Hence, irrespective of what individuals may ‘believe’, these cultural producers appear ‘as much the products of the culture in which they exist as are the goods they deliver’ (Shumway 1996: 251). In the accounts examined here, respondents valorise rural life in a kind of intuitive folk model of community and appear to endorse the view that ‘locality’ (although a social construction) remains a key determinant of identity (see Murray 2007). Smithwick’s ‘as person’ apparently typifies this grassroots, instinctive sense of Irishness; he embodies ‘all the trappings of the pastoral Irish archetype – the alcohol, the architecture, the turf, potatoes, fields, and sheep’ (O’Connor 2006). Nevertheless, his sojourning “sibling” is patently of the same ilk. Though more ‘international’ in his outlook, he too represents a normative Irishness and one senses that he will always be welcome at the local, if perhaps grudgingly.  

The business of uncertainty

    4.1 As the previous section demonstrates, advertising producers draw from the cultural milieu in which they are located and to which they must appeal (Cook 1992; Hackley 2002; McCracken 1986; Scott 1994) and therefore advertising texts can be viewed as legitimate cultural artefacts. However, an over-concentration on cultural grammar can obscure the ‘business’ of advertising and the asymmetrical power relations that underpin it. Advertising producers are not omnipotent actors but tightly governed workers in an industry in which their clients (i.e. brand owners who pay for their services) wield disproportionate power. Likewise, if the work of these producers is ‘cultural’ it is also first and foremost a ‘commercial’ enterprise. In a scathing commentary, Slater criticises purely semiotic approaches to advertising that ignore its commercial raison d'être:  
Over the course of the twentieth century, advertising was treated as a psychological technology, as a semiotic process, as communications media, as modernist art, as ideology or as production of sign values – as absolutely any cultural thing so as not to look at it as a common or garden business effort (2002: 61).

4.2 Researchers who foreground the ‘business’ of advertising often highlight the inherent uncertainty of advertising ‘expertise’. In his influential book Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society (1984), Michael Schudson interrogates critical accounts of advertising that tend to oscillate between a view of advertising as neutral information source and a view of it as powerful persuasion machine. Rather than subscribe to either view, Schudson examines how professionals in this industry mediate and reproduce these commonplace characterisations to solve the particular predicament at hand:   

If they are trying to convince an advertiser to increase its media budget, they can cite examples of devastatingly successful advertising campaigns. But if they are defending themselves before the Federal Trace Commission (FTC) or a civic organisation decrying television advertising to children, they trot out the data that demonstrate that advertising has slight or no effect on product sales (Schudson 1984: 15/16).

4.3 One of Schudson’s principal aims, however, is to draw attention to the uncertainty, difficulty and frustration of advertising work and the concomitant need to “professionalise” advertising discourse. In a similar vein, Alvesson (1994: 543) observes that advertising professionals often have difficulty convincing customers of their ‘know-how’ – a difficulty that instigates various discursive strategies designed to enhance their expert standing. Anne Cronin likewise (2004b) shows how “academic soundbites” feature in professional discourse to make recommendations appear more scientific and valid. In the previous section I noted how advertising producers draw on and reproduce popular understandings of Irishness and use these to suggest propinquity between brand and consumer. However, foregrounding the uncertainty of producer expertise highlights that their discursive constructions of brands and Irishness, whilst suggestive and interesting, are less expressions of ‘truth’ than rhetorical interventions in a ‘political economy’ of truth, designed to engender legitimacy and autonomy (cf.Foucault 1980). In short, ‘what counts as true in this arena is determined by the degree to which it is true to advertising’s commercial imperative’ (Cronin 2004b: 341). Hence, a focus on power relations lies at the heart of this more critical perspective and reveals, in particular, the sometimes precarious position of advertising agencies. This is especially evident when one considers the circumstances in which it was decided (by Diageo) to abandon the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign.  

4.4 By the dawn of the new millennium the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign was beginning to falter, in part it seems because it was “too ruthlessly focused on holding onto adorers” (11.07.06) and was failing to reflect wider socio-cultural change in Ireland. Although earlier ads in this campaign worked because younger Smithwick’s drinkers could still identify with the life depicted, a subsequent series of commercials in 2002/3 using the character ‘Norm’ from the American series Cheers was utterly rejected and deemed highly damaging to the brand:  

“[When] they brought in Norm from Cheers I was really surprised how much damage those ads did to the brand. The ‘locals’ campaign was starting to put Smithwick’s into a corner but Ireland at the same time in the backdrop was changing […] when Norm came on it actually seemed to just cement or finally crystallise all the things that were kind of going on around ‘locals’ that weren’t helping the brand. Norm had aged a lot and they [Smithwick’s drinkers] would just say; “why do you always have, you know, unattractive old people in Smithwick’s ads?” [Laughs] (14.09.06).

4.5 Above, the brand manager describes a conflict between maintaining groundedness and presenting an aspirational image in contemporary Ireland. She compares Smithwick’s outdated image to a receding Ireland, personified in the tired, aging frame of ‘Norm’. Divested of his upbeat Cheers personality, Norm appeared weary and out of place. Hence, she suggests that adding Norm to the campaign “was just getting the brand ready for death in a decent way [laughs]. You know, like make it die like you would an older person, like with respect in their own comfortable world” (14.09.06). Invoking once more the idea of ‘brand as person’, in this case approaching the end of his life cycle, this respondent claims that Norm’s addition to the campaign effectively signalled the death-knell for ‘locals’ and forced a rethinking of strategy. Ultimately, she suggests that the brand was forced to modernise and update its image because ‘locals’ offered a portrait of Ireland with which Smithwick’s drinkers could no longer identify.  

4.6 However, the producers of the ‘locals’ campaign also explain that while Smithwick’s was having success with ‘locals’, Guinness advertising was faltering. The freelance planner claims that Guinness was attempting to attract younger drinkers and “had lost the kind of stout drinking man […] the normal run of the mill artisan guy who drinks Guinness was being left behind in terms of the advertising” (19.07.06). While Smithwick’s was successful, it seems that Guinness advertising was failing and clearly this did not please Diageo. The planner explains that Smithwick’s success with the ‘locals’ campaign caused ripples internally in the Diageo organisation because some felt that its success might negatively impact the company’s flagship brand Guinness; “Guinness is the pearl, the joy […] the centre of gravity” (19.07.06). In particular, it was felt that the Smithwick’s brand image had become too similar to Guinness and that the smaller brand would have to give way: “[Smithwick’s and Guinness] were kind of right on top of each other [but] Guinness is the mass brand in Ireland, you know, the ten thousand pound gorilla […] so we just weren’t going to compete” (14.09.06). This statement provides an interesting glimpse into power asymmetries in a corporate structure such as Diageo, in which a large portfolio of brands must compete internally as well as externally. While respondents were reluctant to delve deeply into the situation at Diageo, the abandoning of the ‘locals’ campaign undermines the suggestion that brand strategies are solely determined by consumer preferences or cultural shifts. On the contrary, here it seems that the client’s concerns and not the consumer’s were the primary reason for the change. From this perspective, putatively inherent brand differences are more accurately products of the ‘available’ symbolic space; that is, the space not occupied by the “ten thousand pound gorilla”. Above all, this episode casts dispersions on the ‘truths’ promulgated by advertising producers. This is not to suggest that their personal beliefs are unimportant or that their categorisations do not have public resonance but rather is to point out that ‘whenever a consumer insight is ‘found’, a brand truth ‘discovered’, or a market position ‘claimed’, it must eventually be abandoned and replaced with another brilliant insight, brand truth and market position’ (Malefyt 2003: 158).  

4.7 The decision to terminate the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign suggests that a desire to ‘minimise the risk of cannibalisation’ in symbolic terms, as Speed (1998) would put it, was key to Diageo’s intervention. More specifically, this episode draws attention to the sometimes precarious position of advertising agencies and suggests that production in this field ‘operates on a more contingent basis’ than the professional discourse of workers implies (Cronin 2004a: 57). If Smithwick’s success was attributable to the insights of advertising producers such as John Fanning, whose “eureka moment” came in the recognition that Smithwick’s was a provincial brand rather than a parochial brand, this expert knowledge (or specifically its cultural coordinates) proved ultimately unstable; the brand’s positioning within the comfortable terrain of traditional Irishness led to a jurisdictional dispute with Guinness in which the ‘parent’ company sided with its favourite son. Foregrounding the sponsored, commercial nature of advertising production and the inherent uncertainty of advertising ‘expertise’ both contextualises and casts a critical light on producers’ constructions of brands and Irishness. This foregrounding of power in analysing professional discourse (or what might for convenience be called a structural explanation of a cultural phenomenon) highlights that constructions of identity in advertising are contingent and context bound and are as much about alleviating producer uncertainty as they are about the prevailing cultural climate or the putative preferences of consumers.  


  5.1 This article has examined an advertising campaign for Smithwick’s ale, referred to by its producers as the ‘locals’ campaign, that was televised in Ireland throughout the 1990s. In 1997 the campaign was voted ‘Best Irish TV Series’ at the Irish creative advertising awards or ‘Shark Awards’. In describing some of the commercials in this campaign alongside the interview accounts of producers, I suggested that the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign (discursively re/constructed here) both animates a variety of sociologically significant themes and also reveals some of the cultural assumptions of its producers. In a rather explicit way this campaign illustrates the construction of ‘normalness’ in advertising and highlights the ways that advertising reflects and reproduces notions of community, home and identity (and in this case particular modes of masculinity). Just as the pub is constructed as a totem of traditional community, the ‘Smithwick’s man’ putatively represents the rural man’s take on contemporary, globalised Ireland. His worries and beliefs (verbalised of course by the campaign’s producers) suggest a stark urban-rural divide and stereotypically conflate the rural and the authentic.  

5.2 The interview excerpts included in this article therefore provide useful illustrations of the ways advertising producers speak on behalf of audiences; they reveal the emotional verbiage typical of these workers and highlight especially the metaphors, discursive tropes and justificatory frameworks commonly employed. They also demonstrate how advertising producers borrow from and intervene in the circulation of meanings about Irishness. In this respect it is worth noting that for advertising communication to ‘work’, the makers and consumers of advertising must possess some form of shared cultural vocabulary (Hackley 2005: 232). Hence, advertisements can ‘show individuals how to be ‘Irish’ or what ‘Irishness’ is’ (Kelly-Holmes 2000: 19). In this article I revealed how established cultural markers are used by advertising producers to build brand identity. This is particularly apparent, for example, in the reference to the poet Patrick Kavanagh, whose oeuvre is almost entirely devoted to themes of rural Irish life (such as poverty and sexual inhibition) and who is used to convey rootedness and a rural mentality. However, I also suggested that this process of cultural appropriation and representation is selective and limited and that advertising producers tend to reproduce dominant understandings of Irishness.  The focus on Smithwick’s (and Guinness) here can be related to other alcohol brands that characteristically trade on, and in turn have become part of national cultures. Arguably Budweiser and Fosters (and their myriad marketing interventions), for example, have helped to create America and Australia in the global imagination.  

5.3 In the second part of the paper I switched my analytical focus to argue that irrespective of how Irishness is constructed by these workers, one’s analysis of their discourse (and texts) must foreground the commercial logic of advertising production and above all, the ‘uncertainty’ of advertising expertise. Drawing on the work of Michael Schudson, amongst others, I suggested that advertising producers often have difficulty convincing customers of their expertise, which instigates discursive strategies designed to enhance their professional standing. From this perspective, Irishness is a malleable ingredient in the advertising mix that is valuable precisely because it is both actionable and alterable. Finally, in examining the decision to abandon the ‘locals’ campaign, I suggested that this ostensibly cultural outcome was largely structurally determined and as such draws attention to the asymmetrical power relations which underpin the advertising industry.  

5.4 My intention in this article has not been to ‘explain’ the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign (or the decision to abandon it) but to highlight the benefit of alternating analytical viewpoints, which might ultimately be used to build a more “integrated cultural-industrial analysis” (Caldwell 2008). Caldwell insists that media studies should encourage more ‘synthetic’ approaches and ‘avoid limiting research to a clean menu of disconnected methods’ (ibid. 4). While Caldwell’s particular interest is in film, I have attempted to show in this article how his advice might also apply to advertising. Although the interview accounts of advertising producers are sociologically important as cultural commentaries on Ireland and Irishness, particularly the suggestion that some versions of Irishness are more ‘authentic’ than others, my analysis finds that their cultural decisions are also always quintessentially commercial calculations (Nixon 1996: 197). In short, behind its colourful façade advertising is a business like any other. Although it is labelled ‘creative’, market forces clearly apply – just as in film, music, sport and other branches of the entertainment ‘industry’. Advertising production is not simple or hierarchical and advertising producers are not mindless automatons. Nevertheless, their words cannot be taken at face value; their claims about brands and Irishness operate less as truth claims than invested understandings designed in the first instance to alleviate the conditions of their own uncertainty.          



1 In this article I use the term advertising ‘producer’ in place of the more conventional ‘practitioner’. The former is broader and refers to all those who are in some shape or form responsible for the ‘content’ of advertisements. Obviously, this encompasses a large number of people ranging from agency workers and marketing managers to photographers, artists, commercial directors and even consumers. While my research focuses primarily on people from the first two groups (i.e. agency workers and marketing managers), it is important to draw attention to the numerous actors and stakeholders involved and to highlight that neither advertising nor advertisements are static or the preserve of a single mass of people. Indeed Fox and Abdullah (1995: 99) highlight that many of the services once performed within the advertising agency (such as photography, typography, print and illustration) are now purchased from third-party companies and therefore while it remains the primary unit of production, the advertising agency cannot be viewed in isolation from the broader networks in which it is enmeshed. Likewise, it is important to highlight that advertising agencies are forced to contend with an increasingly restrictive regulatory environment that I do not give explicit attention to in this article. This is especially the case for alcoholic beverages. In January 2005, for example, the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland, the Association of Advertisers in Ireland, the Drinks Industry Group Ireland and the Department of Health agreed and implemented a new code of standards for the Irish advertising industry designed to minimise the exposure of young people to alcohol advertising. This new code of standards is available at: < >.

  2 Marketing managers (or brand managers) are responsible for the marketing and promotion of a brand and liaise with workers from the advertising agency that holds their ‘account’ i.e. the agency responsible for all or part of the brand’s advertising. ‘Creatives are art directors and copywriters who are responsible for generating ideas for the campaign and for producing the images and the copy (the spoken or written words in an advertisement). Account planners write briefs for the creatives that outline the scope and aims of the campaign, they analyse and prepare long-term strategy and liaise with research companies. Account managers are responsible for the project management and finance and day-to-day contact with the client’ (Cronin 2004a: 59).

  3 Auto-ethnography is a branch of ethnography that emerged as a critique of the latter and which foregrounds the researcher’s own subjective experience. Auto-ethnography is more inward focused, placing the researcher and researched on an equal footing (or in some cases making the researcher him/herself the primary subject of investigation). This approach espouses the belief that research start from one’s own social milieu, with one’s own contacts and with something one is personally interested in. As Ellis and Bochner (2000: 733) put it, auto-ethnography ‘makes the researcher’s own experience a topic of investigation in its own right’. However, auto-ethnographers vary widely in their interests and approaches and differ in their respective focus on graphy (research process), ethnos (culture) and auto (self) (see Reed-Danahay 1997). Although contested and critiqued on various grounds, auto-ethnography’s emphasis on researcher reflexivity and introspection fits well with my desire to incorporate my own experiences and tacit knowledge as a person who formerly worked in advertising. Nevertheless, my reference to the term signals appreciation more than application and I am cognisant of both the benefits and dangers of this approach:  

Done badly, autoethnography can be justly criticized as embodying the worst excesses of post-modernism, as the author creates a self-indulgent, un-generalizable, impenetrably individualized narrative (Holt 2003). At its best, the autoethnography shares voices that might not otherwise have been heard, and presents insights that might otherwise have been too subtle to elicit (Cunningham and Jones 2005: 2/3).

  4 Three case studies of award-winning Irish advertising campaigns were drawn from a sample of winners at the Irish creative advertising awards or ‘Shark Awards’, between 1995 and 2005 (or approximately during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ period). One case study examined two advertising campaigns for Heineken lager, one examined a campaign for the radio station Today FM and the final case study examined the Smithwick’s ‘locals’ campaign, which is the focus of this article. Sampling from the Shark Awards resolved the dilemma of defining ‘Irish’ advertising; the significance of the sample is that it represents an Irish advertising producer’s view of what constitutes Irish advertising. Equally, I felt that drawing the sample from this particular timeframe was important because it is popularly regarded as a period of profound economic and social transformation, during which the representation of Ireland and Irishness became increasingly complex and varied. In compiling case studies from this ten-year sample my interest was not merely to undertake textual analyses of seminal Irish adverts but more importantly, to examine how their cultural content was decided on. In other words, rather than conclude my analysis with texts, I used a sample of award-winning Irish advertising campaigns as a point of departure. The campaigns around which case studies were built were chosen for various reasons, including access to respondents and secondary materials and the richness of empirical data obtained. I also wished to include a broad selection of agency-brand configurations and therefore two of the agencies examined are branch offices of global networks while the third is a privately-owned Irish advertising agency. It bears highlighting that although Guinness featured within the sample, I decided against compiling a case study of this brand because: (i) Guinness is globally emblematic of Irishness and has already received considerable attention from researchers; (ii) the majority of my respondents referred to Guinness willy-nilly and; (iii) I found that producers of the ‘locals’ campaign spent almost as much time describing Guinness as Smithwick’s and therefore this brand inadvertently formed a core dimension of the eventual case study.

  5 This research draws a sample from winners of the ‘Television Series’ category of the Shark Awards, 1995-2005. By its nature, the series commercial tries to develop a theme over several executions, sometimes over many years. Hence, the series provides a more longitudinal view of brand/consumer identity via an extended dialogue. Despite differences in plot, script and creative execution, each series commercial works to compound and reiterate an overriding concept or idea, around which identities are fashioned. The series is therefore a narrative, not a snapshot. The following is the entire list of award-winners in the ‘Irish Television Series’ category 1995-2005, from which I constructed three detailed case studies: 1995 (Client: Telecom; Ad Titles: Jack/Dave/Joe and Dustin); 1996 (Client: Guinness; Ad Title: Life); 1997 (Client: Smithwick’s; Ad Titles: Local/Granddad/Festival); 1998 (Client: Deaf Awareness; Ad Titles: Road Rage/Computer Plonker/Two Things); 1999 (Client: Golden Pages; Ad Titles: Bride/Groom); 2000 (Client: Bank of Ireland; Ad Title: GAA Sponsorship); 2001 (Client: The Irish Times; Ad Titles: Magazine/Lunch Box/Waiting Room/Call Waiting); 2002 (Client: Diageo (Guinness UDV); Ad Titles: Guinness Draught Quality/1759/45 Degrees); 2003 (Client: Heineken (Green Energy Festival); Ad Titles: Van/Edenmore/Kitchen); 2004 (Client: Today FM; Ad Titles: Ian Dempsey/Ray D’Arcy/Philip Cawley); 2005 (Client: Heineken; Ad Titles: Cuba/China).

  6 On this basis it can be argued that the creative entrepreneurialism much publicised in Ireland’s economic ‘success’ stories confirms the gender specific, rather than gender neutral, characterisation of Irish economic progress. We remain part of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ and not, as it were, the ‘Celtic Tigress’ (O’Gorman and Terjesen 2006).

  7 In this article interview dates have been used in place of full names and job titles for the purposes of confidentiality and anonymity. Interviews were ‘semi-structured’ and by informed consent and were mostly conducted at the work premises of producers.

  8 In the second commercial, titled ‘Granddad’, an attractive young woman in her twenties with a sallow complexion, dark brown hair, blue jeans and a tight long-sleeve top strolls confidently into the Gravediggers pub, followed by a small, meek and mildly embarrassed elderly man. The latter is wearing a tweed jacket and tie, and his self-conscious gait is tracked by a slow electric guitar soundtrack reminiscent of Budweiser’s T.J. Hooker commercial. The two are several feet apart and the young woman strolls self-assuredly towards the bar, her dark hair flowing as the older man shuffles behind her. The camera focuses on the reaction of several pockets of men in their late twenties (who are all consuming pints of Smithwick’s that are almost entirely full) as they observe this procession, blatantly giving their utmost attention to the young woman. Two young men stand to look at her over a partition while others cock their heads sidewise to follow her – their reactions displaying a combination of bewilderment and awe.

The hands of a barman fill the screen as he places two pints of Smithwick’s before the young woman and elderly man.

“I dunno, what’s everyone gonna think”, the old man says, shifting uneasily. 

“Granddad, nearly everyone drinks pints”, the young woman replies, a smile filling her face.

The old man raises his eyes to heaven and shakes his head in submission.

‘Are you going for a pint?’ fills the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

  9 Respondents’ descriptions of brands typically follow the model of ‘brand as person’ (Smothers 1993) and the idea that brands have ‘life cycles’ (Aaker 1991) comparable to human life cycles. In this sense, a brand is viewed as a child at its inception and its attempts at communication entail simple messages. However, as the brand evolves a more coherent identity and more complex affiliations can be constructed. Within the model of ‘brand as person’ the role of the marketing or brand manager is deemed crucial. In his 7th principle of brand leadership (“All brands need good parents”), for example, Bedbury (2002) argues that marketers must “chaperone” their brand wherever it goes and dress it before it leaves home.  


     I wish to express my thanks to the anonymous reviewers of this article, to John Fanning of the McConnell’s Advertising Agency and to Andreas Hess of the School of Sociology, University College Dublin.



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