Marketers of a certain age will remember the joy of encountering the Guinness Book of Records for the first time. Usually that initial read was a well-thumbed copy at a local library.
On the surface there’s little connection between photos of people with long, grotty fingernails and stout beer. The fact that both brands share the same name might be merely a coincidence.
The true story, though—the astonishing story, is that the Guinness Brewery was directly responsible for creating the book of records. The master brewers at Guinness, in fact, had a controlling interest in the brand until fairly recently.
Here’s how an argument about bird hunting evolved into a worldwide phenomenon.
The World’s Fastest Game BirdSir Hugh Beaver was the Managing Director of the Guinness Brewery in the 1950’s. On November 10, 1951, he went bird hunting with a group of friends. Beaver missed a shot at a golden plover and attempted to explain the miss by pointing out the plover is the fastest game bird in Europe.
His hosts disagreed, claiming the red grouse was the fastest bird. In the era of smartphones and Google the argument would have been brief. Back then, though, the party soon realised there was no one reference book that could resolve the argument.
Beaver reasoned that there must be hundreds of similar questions that arose in pub conversations. The fastest, the tallest, the oldest—arguments that, like the grouse v. plover conundrum, could not be easily settled. He reckoned that a book of records would be a way to settle these pub bets and might be a good marketing tool for the brand.
The Most Popular Marketing GiveawayGuinness employee Christopher Chataway recommended that Beaver turn over the record-collecting task to Norris and Ross McWhirter, twin brothers who ran a fact-checking agency out of London. Beaver commissioned the brothers in August of 1954 to begin compiling the first Guinness Book of Records.
The brothers McWhirter researched and compiled the first book in 13 90-hour work weeks, plugging on through weekends and bank holidays to complete the volume. Guinness arranged for 1,000 copies to be printed and distributed for free in pubs throughout Ireland and the UK.