To Arthur! To Martha! To marketing!


With Arthur’s Day being celebrated for the third time, Sean Finnan takes a look at how this once-off celebration has become an annual event

Pushed by declining Guinness sales and a stagnating pub industry, Arthur’s Day is taking place again this year on the 22nd of September. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, Arthur’s Day began two years ago as a celebration of the legacy of the founder of one of Ireland’s most famous brands, and the new charity fund set up in his name. Now in its third year, there is a danger that Arthur Guinness’ memory will soon be remembered in the same alcohol-heavy manner as that of our national saint; a worrying prospect in a society already plagued with alcohol abuse problems.

Even the sight of Barack Obama drinking a pint of plain at Moneygall has not stopped the latest decline in sales of Guinness in Ireland. With profits staggering, the prospect of using their founder’s 250th birthday was a marketing opportunity not to be missed. Guinness sales fell by six per cent in Ireland last year but this is just a reflection of the overall effect that the recession and governmental legislation has been having on publicans’ trade. To the cynic, Arthur’s Day could be regarded as just a corporate ploy by Diageo to increase sales (which it no doubt is), but its presence helps an economic sector that has been hit hard over the past decade.

Padraig Cribben, CEO of the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI), told the University Observer that during Arthur’s Day “there is a usually a significant increase [in sales] in some outlets depending on the type of events organized. We welcome the continuation of Arthur’s Day, and actively encourage our members to take advantage of this day by putting on events and activities to increase custom.”

It is not only the publicans that welcome Arthur’s Day, but also their customers. Although the lore of a free pint is enough to entice half the country outside its doors for an hour, it is not the only reason that punters head to their local on Arthur’s Day. The pub has always been the traditional social hub of urban and rural Ireland. This is changing fast and Arthur’s Day could be seen as just another attempt to inject some life into a faltering sector. On the day, however, the old vibrancy that defined the traditional Irish pub is brought to life again. Most pubs across the country have music events in place that draw the once familiar crowds.

On the day, Cribben explains that “there tends to be a good cross section of ages, but it is again dependent on the specific type of event in individual locations. There tends to be a good party atmosphere and people use the occasion to simply enjoy themselves.”

Independent of the events that local pubs are putting on across the country are the gigs which Diageo are organising. By associating Guinness with new bands through the gigs they place around the country, they keep the label in the eye of the young drinking market. This is a marketing ploy that Heineken have been using effectively for years. In no way are the leading Arthur’s Day gigs aimed towards the traditional, older Guinness market. This year the Scissor Sisters are leading the celebrations alongside DJ Calvin Harris and Scottish singer Paulo Nutini. Guinness needs the younger market in order to survive, and it comes as no surprise that Guinness have every year placed Arthur’s Day on a Thursday; the traditional student drinking day.

Welfare Officer Rachel Breslin agrees that Arthur’s Day is a brilliant marketing ploy but is unsure as to how much of an effect it will have on students’ consumption of the product in question. “If students are as astute to the very commercial purpose of this day as I believe they are, then they will not be influenced by a drinks manufacturer and if they do go out will instead enjoy the events and social atmosphere in the city.”

Arthur’s Day is built upon the notion of consumption, and it brings with it the all-too-familiar problem of excessive drinking. This problem is especially aggravated among student drinkers, known for overindulging.

“Excessive drinking on Arthur’s day is a symptom, not the cause of Ireland’s cultural problems with alcohol and these need to be addressed,” explained Breslin. “Welfare acknowledges its crucial role in reducing excessive drinking among students, and aims to do this through information campaigns this year on alcohol and its effects.”

Although only in its third year, Arthur’s Day has quickly gained significance in the social calendar. Not only this, but its importance to publicans’ livelihoods and to Guinness’ sales will ensure that we will be all raising a glass “To Arthur” for years to come.