If a thriving multi-billion euro corporation asked you to provide free marketing services for it, would you do it?
If you plan on taking part in "Arthur's Day" on Thursday, Sept. 27, that's exactly what you will be doing. You may like to think that you are honoring a well-loved Dubliner, but in fact you have been manipulated into helping to create further millions for Diageo's already wealthy shareholders.
Diageo is the British company which owns Guinness, along with Smirnoff, Baileys, Johnny Walker, and many other well-known brands of booze. It employs very clever marketing people and expends vast sums on advertising. That's how it has managed to convince millions worldwide to jump around drinking Guinness on "Arthur's Day" each year. Every September since 2009, Guinness drinkers have been expected to toast to the memory of Arthur Guinness at 17:59 -- in deference to 1759, the year when the Guinness Brewery was established. Conveniently, this is also the time when thirsty office workers clock out.
The first Arthur's day in 2009 was forgivable, as it marked the 250th anniversary of the founding of the Guinness Brewery. I was in Dublin that day and its success was remarkable -- the streets were thronged at 6 p.m. It had novelty value, and seemed like a reasonable nod to Dublin's Guinness heritage. However, it's subsequent incarnations are little more than crass marketing. It's completely understandable that Diageo would want to keep on milking the Arthur's Day cow for all it's worth, but why are so many people willing to be milked?
Diageo doesn't need your help to boost its bottom line. Last year its operating profits jumped to £3.2 billion sterling, primarily due to its soaring sales in emerging markets. This year, profits are expected to jump by another 9 percent to over £3.5 billion. Diageo is quite well able to flog booze, both in the developing world and here.
Over the past three years, Arthur's Day events have been held in Dublin, Kuala Lumpur, Lagos and New York. Acts such as Tom Jones and Estelle have performed at events. Last year, an astonishing 10,000 people took part in Arthur's Day festivities even in Kuala Lumpur. It is now even being called, "Ireland's second national day" by some. While any occasion for the Irish diaspora to get together is welcome, do we have to have one invented by a corporate giant?
For better or worse, the Irish as a nation are now indelibly associated with the Guinness brand. However, the concept of boycotting was also developed in Ireland, when the people of Mayo ostracized one Captain Boycott to great effect.
We should not allow ourselves -- and crude (if accurate) stereotypes of the Irish as raucous drinkers -- to be manipulated by ad men in pursuit of billions for their corporate bosses. Few of us want Irishness to be defined by a British multinational, even for a day. Something must be done.
The Irish solution to this Irish problem must be to boycott Arthur's Day. Once word gets out that Arthur's Day is being derided in Arthur's own home town, the whole thing will fizzle out and we will be spared this appallingly successful global effort at mass manipulation.
However, nobody want to spoil a party. So, this Arthur's Day, go drinking by all means -- but order anything but a Guinness. Indeed, don't order any Diageo products. Make it a boycott and a booze-up all in one. Now that's the true Irish way.
Follow Rory Fitzgerald on Twitter: www.twitter.com/roryfitzgerald