With Guinness 0, Diageo offers a new way to enjoy ‘communion’

From its dark black body, creamy white head, and even the tulip glass emblazoned with its signature harp, few beers have brand assets as distinctive as Guinness. Even for non-drinkers, it might just be the most aesthetically pleasing and enticing beer in the world.

It has inspired poems, appeared in literature since the 1800s, and is the basis of a humorous Twitter account called Shit London Guinness solely dedicated to, well, the “shit pints of Guinness” poured by inattentive barkeeps in England’s capital.

So when Guinness made its first foray into the fast-growing non-alcoholic space with Guinness 0 last year, it paid an extraordinary amount of attention to the brewing process in order to maintain the integrity of the assets that have made it so famous worldwide.

Diageo Canada’s head of marketing Nadia Niccoli, who is overseeing this month’s Canadian rollout of Guinness 0, said that if the new product was placed side-by-side with the brand’s flagship beer, the two would be indistinguishable. Even the taste of the zero-alcohol product, she said, is “about 98% identical” to its counterpart.

The bullseye target for Guinness will be people 39 and under. “We just want to make sure we continue to bring the ethos of what Guiness is, bringing people together in what we call ‘communion,’ and creating a liquid that allows for an inclusive beverage experience,” said Niccoli.

“We filter [the alcohol] out without presenting any thermal stress to the liquid, so what that does is protect the taste and character,” she explained. “The true magic is that [drinkers] are not having to compromise on those liquid credentials for a non-alcoholic product.”

The brand is leaning hard into that magical aspect with a launch event at Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square on Wednesday featuring a performance by the mentalist Kevin Hamand, supported by the public space’s array of digital boards. “It comes back to the magic and the care and attention that was paid to how the liquid was formulated,” said Niccoli of the strategic approach. “It’s about bringing the magic of this liquid to life.”

That’s being complemented by PR from Narrative and a broad-based media buy from Touché that includes TV and out-of-home using global creative adapted for Canada. There are also Guinness 0 vending machines that will dispense some 15,000 cans of the new product during stops in major markets including Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. It’s part of the “liquid to lips” strategy that is a fundamental aspect of beverage alcohol marketing.

“If we’re saying that Guinness 0 is the Guinness you know and love, we want to be able to give people the opportunity to see for themselves,” said Niccoli. “That it’s exactly what we’re delivering from a marketing and brand positioning standpoint.”

Diageo is also adopting more of an “always on” marketing plan for the brand designed to extend its reach beyond typical Guinness moments like St. Patrick’s Day. The brand had a presence at this year’s Toronto Caribbean Festival, for example.

Canada is the next major market for Guinness 0 following its introduction in the U.S. and Europe last year, and represents what Niccoli described as a “critical addition” to the brand’s portfolio, slotting alongside its flagship product, Guinness Extra Stout, and a new nitro cold brew coffee product introduced earlier this year.

“The non-alcoholic space is an exciting growth area for Guinness,” she said. “It’s about making sure we’re offering our customers more options that fit their lifestyle.”

Beer, meanwhile, is one of the fastest-growing segments within the non-alcoholic beverages segment, and is expected to be worth US$43.6 billion by 2023, according to Future Market Insights. Several brands, from large players like AB InBev’s Corona to smaller brands like Upstreet Craft Brewing,and Muskoka Brewery, have introduced non-alcoholic products in recent months.

‘We’re seeing the younger LDA to 34 consumer prioritizing a healthier lifestyle, so I think that’s where we’re seeing the growth come from,” said Niccoli.

Chris Powell