GUINNESS, the stout associated with Irish ‘craic’, has long enjoyed praise for its television adverts. A series of black and white commercials which appeared to be related to tackling challenges are the last which I can recall leaving an imprint on my mind.
Currently showing on UK television screens is an advert set amongst the grime, hustle and bustle and sheer toil that is hard work in the Congolese capital, Brazzaville. The advert slowly blooms into colour as we see how its stars change from workers to finely dressed fashion dandies – climaxing as they bust moves on a dancefloor, with Guinness available on draft nearby.
Of course Guinness is now obliged to remind us that we must ‘enjoy’ its product responsibly, but there is no holding back by the characters in this advert, who aren’t to be seen drinking during any of its 130 seconds. Wielding canes and umbrellas, selecting silk ties, polishing shoes, flexing finely pressed pastel coloured shirts these are the Sapeurs – the Congolese Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant Persons (SAPE). Sapeur is also the French term for military engineers.
The advert’s theme is apparently a celebration of the spirit of the individual and of choosing your own personality despite wider circumstances, which of course should somehow relate to you and me drinking more Guinness – the sole intention behind any Guinness commercial.
“Made of More” Guinness/AMV BBDO director Nicolai Fuglsig
Guinness though has long had a presence in west Africa. Its was first exported to Sierra Leone in 1827 and opened a brewery in Lagos, Nigeria in 1963, the first outside the British Isles to brew the famous drink.
Sapeurs are part of a genuine cultural and fashion movement, born it seems in the 1950s, in the Congo and neighbouring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) where it was in part a response to dictator, president Mobutu who had banned the ‘Western’ style suit.
This BBC Magazine article takes a closer look at how true to life the Guinness advert is and also drops the bombshell, not disclosed in an accompanying mini documentary produced by Guinness, that the advert was in fact filmed in South Africa.
“Sapeurs – A Short Documentary by Guinness” Stillking director Hector Mediavilla
RnB singer Solange Knowles portrayed the Sapeur movement in her 2012 video ‘Losing You’ which was also filmed in South Africa. The sister of superstar Beyoncé told Fader magazine she had originally wanted to film the video in Brazzaville but logistics meant South Africa was more feasible but she was able to tap into the Congolese Sapeur culture there.
The Guinness advert showcases a movement that is a positive celebration of modern Africa. The continent is often only seen through conflict, poverty and disaster and it can be overlooked that life in all its forms goes on. Though the poverty that blights the Congo can clearly be seen, contrasting sharply with the elegance of the Sapeurs, it’s a glimpse of African life that isn’t miserable. It’s a truth that is often overlooked that people, across the world essentially want the same things, here to escape from work and enjoy their free time – even if some put more effort into that enjoyment and do it with more finesse than others.
In case this has all seemed like an overly positive appraisal of Guinness and its advertising here’s a link to ads drawn up in 1936 to advertise the drink in Nazi Germany