Sketches of John Gilroy
On 7 February 1929, the Guinness Company embarked on a new phase in its history by publishing its first ever advertisement in two daily UK newspapers, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express. In the 87 years since this first advertisement, the brand has been responsible for creating some of the most memorable press, poster and television ads in popular memory and has truly been at the forefront of advertising innovation across the globe.
In the Guinness Archive we are very fortunate to have a large collection of original hard copy advertisements, which are preserved in our environmentally-controlled archival storage area. Approximately 4,500 posters, showcards, calendars, press advertisements and drawings within this collection have been digitized, enabling the staff of the Guinness Archive to easily share these images with researchers and current marketers of the brand in search of creative inspiration.
One of the most interesting parts of the collection is a series of original artwork comprising 602 items. This collection features the rough sketches of John Gilroy (1898-1985), the artist who shaped the first thirty years of GUINNESS® advertising.
Gilroy was recruited in 1925 by the advertising agency S.H. Benson's. In 1928 Benson's began work on the first advertising campaign for GUINNESS® beer and from then until the early 1960s Gilroy was above all associated with advertising of GUINNESS®.
Gilroy is particularly associated with two campaigns for GUINNESS®, which ran simultaneously for nearly thirty years from the 1930s. The first involved the slogan "Guinness for Strength" showing people performing incredible feats of strength empowered by GUINNESS®. The most popular posters in this series were the "Girder"(1934) depicting a workman effortlessly carrying a massive girder on his head and the horse and cart with the farmer pulling the cart (1949).
The second campaign featured zoo-animals. At the time Benson's had been trying unsuccessfully to develop a human "Guinness family" for its advertising. The idea of using animals to advertise GUINNESS® occurred to Gilroy after visiting the circus. While watching a performing sea-lion he entertained the curious thought that the animal would be smart enough to balance a glass of GUINNESS® on its nose! It became the concept for one of the world's longest running advertising campaigns "My Goodness, MY GUINNESS”. The hapless zookeeper, a caricature of Gilroy himself, watched over the family of animals which included an ostrich swallowing a GUINNESS®, glass and all, a pelican with a beak full of bottles, a tortoise, a lion, bear, crocodile, kangaroo, giraffe, polar bear, gnu, kinkajou, penguin (particularly associated with Draught GUINNESS® to emphasise its coolness) and, of course, most famous of all, the toucan. The last major Gilroy poster dates from 1961 and shows animals at the seaside.
Gilroy’s original sketches are a very valuable resource for fans of his work and of GUINNESS® advertising, as they vividly demonstrate the development of ideas for many iconic advertisements. This storybox also shows the aesthetic beauty of the original drawings, clearly demonstrating the depth of Gilroy’s talent as a portrait artist.