Standing up for Your Customers

When Guinness became the third major beer brand to pull their sponsorship of the 2014 St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York City it took me a bit by surprise.

I definitely think it was the right move for sure, but it is a bit counter to what the brand is all about... at least at first blush.

St. Patrick's Day, for many, is synonymous with drinking beer. Through the years, it's always been either green beer or Irish beer; one or the other for me anyway. I'd also say that Guinness is synonymous with Irish beer, so it has generally been my beer of choice Irish holiday after holiday. I am half Irish after all (thanks Mom!)... even kissed the Blarney Stone in college.

So how could an Irish beer not support the biggest Irish beer-drinking holiday of the year? How could they do that? Isn't St. Patrick's Day a part of the Guinness brand DNA?

Evidently there's something bigger going on here that is really special, at least from my perspective. It's not at all about the actual beer or the annual holiday ritual; it's about the brand's customers.

By not supporting the St. Patrick's Day Parade this year, Guinness is actually choosing to support its customers instead... those customers in particular who feel like they can't express themselves during this particular holiday celebration. In this case, gay men and women who are not allowed to show their colors in the Parade.

It was a brave move by the Irish beer brand, one that came late the day before the Parade as the brand was hoping to see a reversal in the Parade's policy. When the reversal didn't come, the brand pulled out.

The move was an active support of its customers. Which is exactly what a brand should do. Any brand should support its customers first.

Every brand should put the needs, values, and emotions of its customers ahead of any other brand action or any other brand priority. It's those customers who support the brand, by the way, and keep it in existence. Without those customers, there is no brand and no Parade either.

So it should be an easy choice, actually. In this case, the brand chose to put its customers' feelings and rights ahead of its Irish roots.

But I suspect for this particular brand, this may have been a calculated choice.

If you take a look at their current advertising campaign, Guinness sends a very clear and decided message: "The choices you make reveal the true nature of your character."

Indeed Guinness is merely living up to its brand and to that I say "Cheers!"