Friday, April 23, 2010

Commercial Review: GUINNESS 'PURE GENIUS': PART 1 (1987-1993, Rutger Hauer)

Stars: 4.2 of 5.
Running Time: 1:40.
Notable Cast or Crew: Rutger Hauer.
Best one-liner: "If you keep an open mind... you'll discover dark secrets."
Today's review will examine just one small facet of a much larger ad campaign, mounted by Guinness in the late 80's and early 90's. Further examinations, as is the case with the ongoing Charles Bronson/Mandom analysis, will be posted at a later date.

Alright. Let's look at a few pictures, shall we?

How vanilla can ya get? Who could be offended by a toucan? Who wouldn't welcome a lovely day? How does he balance that big ole pint on that whacky long beak? You get points for vintage charm, bud, but you're not pushing any envelopes, not by a long shot.

It's good for you?! Not so edgy. We're in search of darkness, weakness...the demons within. We want Oliver Reed. Self-destructive behavior. A three-day bender.

Alright, now we're talkin'. This one introduces an element of danger. But look how goofy the gosh darned lion is. He's not interested in tearin' that mustachioed man limb from limb, he just wants a sip of that Guinness. After he gets it, he'll probably lick his lips, make some puppy dog eyes, and say something adorable like "Luvely day fer a Guinness!"

But things are about to change. Yes, they're about–




Unsatisfied with your dreary ad campaign? Feel like you're in a bit of a rut? The ads are starting to blend together? Well allow me to introduce you to the shot in the arm that is RUTGER HAUER. The seven year ad campaign made Hauer a millionaire and apparently boosted Guinness sales by 22%- 37 million pints. No more quaint little toucan piffle– we're talking an ice cold mystery man who gazes deeply into a black pint of Guinness and solves the mysteries of the universe. You are invited. And so is Abe Lincoln. More on that in a minute.

Now I can't find too much information about the creative team that actually scripted and directed these ads (at different times, Ridley Scott, Paul Weiland, and Hugh Hudson were involved), but they're full of such non-sequiturs, mind-bending imagery, and utter bizarritude that they beg the question, did Rutger write these himself?

Today we'll look at an extended commercial from 1993 which blends imagery from several prior ads and acts as a sort of overview for the 'Pure Genius' campaign as a whole. It's more like a short film than a television commercial. More LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD than Budweiser Frogs, if you will.

We begin with a slow track in on a can of Guinness as it is popped open- the yawning perforation expels foam, dominates the screen, and we venture within- we're about to go on an extraordinary journey, ladies and gentlemen.

The foam gives way to a cliffside Tibetan monastery, looking perhaps like something out of Powell & Pressburger...

Said monastery is inhabited by a solitary monk, deep in thought. The original Zen master himself, Monk Hauer. Monk Hauer shares his thoughts–

The world revolves at a thousand miles an hour.. it's enough to make you dizzy-zy-zy-zy-zy...

With a flourish of reverb, the camera spirals up, up, and away, past a hanging bulb and into the cosmos, whereupon we... see the Big Bang happen. And that's not even the highlight of this commercial. Billions of space particles converge into constellations, which appear on a map that is immediately thereafter cruelly crumpled by mysterious fingers, belonging to an unseen giant form. The monstrous man checks his watch, where a tiny Rutger Hauer casually strolls amongst the clockwork. With the bare minimum of effort, he stops the rotating second hand, hoists his glass, and cryptically instructs–

"Talk amongst yourselves....I may be...some time..."

Water flows from a porthole within the watch and the camera tracks back to reveal the esoteric swirl within a newly poured pint of Guinness. Yes, it's a good thing that it takes three days for a greenhorn bartender to slosh out your pint of Guinness- in fact, it deliberately takes so long to settle because Rutger thinks you should be taking that time to meditate on a few philosophical matters of great importance. Or you can just wait impatiently and tap your fingers on the bar like a real douchebomb, it makes no difference to Rutger whether you become enlightened or not, you unwashed hooligan.

The swirl gives way to amber waves of grain. The wheat rustles forebodingly as a storm brews on the horizon. A single scarecrow, complete with top hat and perched crow, stands watch.

And, yeah, that scarecrow is Rutger Hauer. He smiles.

If you keep an open mind, you'll discover dark secrets...

A drop of water on Rutger's eyebrow transforms into the domain of a terrifying whale whose mouth we are entering presently...

Within the belly of the whale, a ghostly, forlorn harmonica pipes out a tune. (Is that a trace of the Mandom theme...?) The camera pans past sunken shipwrecks, derelict covered wagons, and eerie whisps of smoke to reveal...

...Rutger Hauer quaffing a Guinness and playing checkers against Abe Lincoln. Rutger leans in, and half-sincerely, half sarcastically says,

"Have you been here long?"

I'm still not sure if he's seriously asking him because he wants to know, or if he's snidely affirming his own timeless seniority over Abe Lincoln. That is the power and ambiguity of Rutger Hauer's performance. Well, it doesn't matter, cause Hauer makes a smooth move and jumps one of Abe Lincoln's checkers. Before Hauer can say 'King me,' the white checker transforms into the head on a pint of Guinness, and the ad is over.

Whew! What a fucking ad! We saw the Big Bang. We got swallowed by a sea creature. We saw Rutger Hauer meditate in the Himalayas, stop time itself, play a human scarecrow, and kick Abe Lincoln's ass at checkers... and all this in under two minutes! Plus, now we got a mouth-watering urge to swig some Guinness and ponder the mysteries of the universe. Hell, we even got in a sideways plug for whale rights. We've come a long way since "Guinness is Good for You," and we've still got a long way to go... until then...

EDIT: In reflection, it's probably not actually Abe Lincoln. Being as he resides in the belly of a whale, it would make more sense if it was Captain Ahab (think the Gregory Peck incarnation). Not that the rest of the commercial embodies this sort of adherence to logic or reason. Regardless, whether Abe Lincoln or Captain Ahab; it's still impressive that Rutger so casually vanquishes him at checkers and affirms his superiority: Have you been here long? Like, go find another whale or something, right?

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Ah, back in the day when some care and thought and dare i say craft actually went into advertising. Man, that has got to be one of the batshit craziest ads! Hauer managed to even outdo Charles Bronson which is no easy feat! But hey, when you can literally stop time and casually hang out in the belly of a whale playing checkers, is there really any contest?

Sean Gill said...

Well having to choose between Bronson and Hauer is about as rough as SOPHIE'S CHOICE. I will say that Hauer has mastered the art of delivering lines, a skill that Bronson never exactly honed (although had he appeared in chicken commercials "Chicken's good...I like chicken" perhaps he could hold a candle to "Talk amongst yourselves....I may be...some time..."

And who knew that Hauer and Bronson ads both would get so abstract, so metaphysical? A decline in craftsmanship and creativity, indeed...

J.D. said...

Agreed. Hell, I would rank their ads right up there in the pantheon alongside Michael Ironside's beer ads. The holy triumvirate!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm..Rutger Hauer...he was so mysteriously sexy in his younger days, I love him in the Hitcher, he scares the shit out of me but at the same time mesmerises me with those gorgeous blue watery eyes. These Rutger Guinness ads were a stroke of genius..yeah pure genius favourite one with Rutger is the "Planet Mars" one.

Hauer is my all time fav actor, I wish he'd do more ads, even in old age he's still got that delicious air of mystery.

Sean Gill said...

Indeed––and I love the "Planet Mars" ad, too. One could even take it as a sneaky explanation of why he isn't in Verhoeven's TOTAL RECALL!