Tim Tan Huynh

Guinness – “Surfer”

  • 27 Oct 2014
  • The acclaim and popularity of this commercial is probably the result of its exciting beat, quotable lines, and compelling hero-story.

This famous and timeless commercial is from 1999. I can’t remember how I found it on YouTube, but I’m glad I did. It only aired in the UK, so I never knew about it until last year. This commercial has quality ingredients: the thumping music, thrilling action, spectacular effects, unique casting, understated narration, and (mostly) good writing are really cool.

The theme is patience before savoring. The old-school surfer waits for the wave before he and his buddies take it on. The herd of giant horses personifies the danger and majesty of the water, which both carries and chases the surfers. They wipe out, one by one, except for the hero, who stands in triumph before basking in the admiration of the others back on the beach. The product is finally shown with the tagline, “Good things come to those who…”

The implied message is that riding a killer wave and drinking some Guinness are both so enjoyable, you won’t mind waiting for either of them. The commercial creates anticipation by gradually introducing the music, a Dave Clarke remix of “Phat Planet” by Leftfield, which sets the mood with its high-tempo, low-sounding rhythm. The 90-second version is silent for the first 10 seconds and again before the final line; the 60-second version has shorter pauses.

The song is loud enough during the action to grab attention without overpowering the narrator; it gets cranked when the product appears. The writing and performance of the narration are effectively simple, for the most part; the opening stanza and the final lines are memorable, but the rest is forgettable, partly because it’s vague—there’s an allusion to Moby Dick, I think—and partly because it’s paired with the action.

The old-school surfer is an interesting figure. His apparent age and race, and to a lesser extent his hair style and swim trunks, are atypical of what you would imagine if you only read about the commercial. He’s not conventionally handsome, but he’s physically fit, so he looks unglamorous and heroic at the same time. The fiction of the commercial adds to his hero status by giving him patience and success to go with his legit skill.

The narration is written as a third-person account instead of a first-person one, and the secluded location makes sense. This commercial is the work of the ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and the director Jonathan Glazer.