The Managing Director of GUINNESS Exports Ltd, Mr A.W. Fawcett, was a master at promotional advertising for his time and quite an extraordinary man. He initiated the idea to drop sealed bottles of Foreign GUINNESS from ships at various points around the world's oceans. The bottles contained messages for those lucky enough to find them washed up on the shore!
During the summer of 1954, 50,000 bottles were dropped in the first and lesser of the two drops undertaken in that year. A numbered greetings message was enclosed which asked the finder to tear-off a part of the message and return it to GUINNESS Exports, reporting the location and date of the find. Many did so and each received a personal reply and a small memento of the event. Some bottles were found in Liverpool docks, others from the Bahamas, Tahiti, the Azores and Mexico. The success of the idea led to the decision to treble the scale of the drop to be done in the bicentenary year of 1959.
In 1959, 150,000 specially embossed bottles were dropped from 30 freighters in the Atlantic to be targeted to make landfall on the eastern seaboard of the USA and Canada.
Unlike the first drop these specially made bottles had the outline of the North American continent on them. The bottles were sealed with a lead capping to protect the small number of documents they contained, the most interesting of these being a colourful certificate from 'the Office of King Neptune'. In addition there was a little booklet recounting the story of Guinness and a special gold-coloured GUINNESS® label attached to some instructions on how to turn the bottle into a table-lamp. Sometimes the bottles contained other items such as an advertisement for Ovaltine (who helped sponsor the bottle drop) or a notice about the ship concerned.
View the 1959 bottle contents.
The 45 bottles per carton were dropped overboard and the carton was made so as to disintegrate in sea water.
These bottles are still turning up over 50 years after the event, making it the longest running GUINNESS® advertising promotion. In the past few years, bottles have been found in California, Texas, South Africa, Wales, Canada and the Bahamas.
A Wonderful Find
In 2002, the GCC received the following letter from Marc Gadoury, a French Canadian, who was part of a team working on a series of documentaries about the impact of climate change in the High Arctic:
Marc wrote: This summer (2002), as a cinematographer, I travelled a lot, with other partners, in the Canadian Arctic. The story started a few years ago when one of our group, Mario Cyr (an underwater cinematographer), found two of these bottles on a beach of our desert island. He was at that time under assignment with people of the National Geographic. That was a big excitement for all of us when he came back and showed us his find.
This summer we were lucky enough to go back to the same location, this time to film walrus. After setting up our camp, and on a bad weather day, we started to walk around the camp to see if we could find some more of these bottles. Our first few finds were mostly broken ones, probably hit against the rocks over all those years. In fact, we found a lot of broken pieces. Then, over one kilometer from our camp and on a small beach between rock and coast, we found close to a dozen of them. They were there, innocent just ready to be found after 43 years. That was our first big discovery.
Back at the camp we decided to open one to know exactly what is the story. On his first trip, Mario’s worker partner, an Inuk, opened one of them and Mario had a bad recollection of what was inside (they were in a rush to leave the island), so now we wanted to clarify as much as possible the story of those mysterious bottle. Some of the picture that I send you were taken on that afternoon when we opened one of them.
A few days later we decided to walk in the other direction, and of course we found 3 or 4 more, always on little beach between rock and coast. Some of them were mostly covered with vegetation and some of them were there as if they were dropped the day before. On another day, as we travelled close to the shore with our boat we found a dead polar bear, so we moved closer to the beach and there also I found two more.
On a paper found in the one we opened indicated the name of a ship 'M.S.Devon/Tyne-Churchill'. Some Inuk people of the area mention a beach that they call 'The Beer Bottle Beach'. How many others of those bottle are over there I wonder? One think for sure, finding one is a big thrill, it’s a direct link to the past and because the climate is so stable over there they will stay well protected.
I left the island with 10 of them. Some are in pretty good shape, the lead cap is mostly perfect. I didn't open any of them. So there is our story (and here are some pictures Marc supplied):
A.W. Fawcett, the Managing Director of GUINNESS Exports Ltd, was an extraordinary man, a benevolent despot with imaginative promotional ideas but an abrasive personality. His staff had an appropriate nickname for him, based on his initials, 'Appointment with Fear'. Yet although ruthless and determined in business matters, he was devoted to his workforce whom he referred to as his 'family' in the memos, often decorated with his own cartoons, which accompanied the Easter eggs and Christmas bonuses he gave them. Morale was good, despite the tough working conditions. There was a canteen, a roof garden, a pension scheme and even halibut oil capsules provided free as 'your winter sunshine'.
A.W. Fawcett had a genius for unusual sales promotions and publicity stunts. In 1958 he bought up 250 old Liverpool Council gas lamp posts and advertised them free to any Liverpudlian overseas who could suggest ways to increase GUINNESS sales.
During the 1956 Suez Crisis when petrol was rationed, Fawcett bought a horse and cart to transport GEL's wooden cases. Peter the horse soon became a firm favourite, cadging mints from the local sweet shop and enjoying a nightly bottle of GUINNESS in his feed. To celebrate the centenary of Macfee's (GEL's predecessor company), Fawcett commissioned a giant cake. The bottom two tiers were cut into 3000 pieces and sent to customers all over the world, while the top three tiers were put into sealed containers to be opened in 1961, 81 and 2001! GEL's bright yellow delivery lorries, decorated with model leprechauns, giant bottles and globes also carried the company's entries in local carnivals which were based on popular GUINNESS advertisements. GEL had special miniature bottling machinery which produced many thousands of 3 1/4" miniature bottles from 1953-86. These became standard advertising novelties in many GUINNESS markets. Several special ones were also produced to commemorate events such as a replica of the Mayflower which sailed to the USA in 1957 carrying 600 dozen miniature GUINNESS bottles among its cargo.
A.W. Fawcett, who had joined the company as a young clerk in 1913, eventually retired in 1962 as Managing Director and Chairman.