Beer drinkers are used to seeing eye-catching beer labels — some good, some not so good. But stroll past a beer fridge and you might see a label that’s simple, nostalgic, and a throwback to the 1930s: the Guinness toucan.
The toucan goes back to 1935 and the advertising firm S.H. Benson. Artist John Gilroy had been recently hired, and Dorothy Sayers, a famous crime writer and playwright, wrote advertising copy for the company. When Guinness came to the agency, they had a very particular request.
“The Guinness family did not want an advertising campaign that equated with beer,” the UK History House writes. “They thought it would be vulgar. They also wanted to stress the brew’s strength and goodness. Somehow it led to animals.”
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There was the pelican that stole everyone’s beers with the copy, “My goodness — my Guinness!” Also the sea lion that had a habit of stealing Guinness. And the turtle that steals Guinness on its back. A lot of thirsty animals, basically. None earned as much fame as the toucan, however.
The toucan’s brightly colored beak contrasts nicely with two dark glasses of Guinness (almost always two glasses, playing off of the similar sounds of “too can” and “toucan”). But it was Sayers’s copy that elevated the toucan to legendary status.
“Guinness is good for you,” one poster reads. “How grand to be a Toucan, Just think what Toucan do.”
Then there was the “Guinness Time” ad: “‘I do like,’ says the Toucan, ‘to be beside the blue. With Guinness time in view can you guess what Toucan do.’”
The toucan and its gang of animal friends graced Guinness ads for decades. Then, in 1982, Guinness stopped working with S.H. Benson and dropped the animals. In recent days the toucan has made some appearances, including a limited-edition can released in 2016. But it primarily lives on in the memories of Guinness lovers and collectors.