"To Arthur"

"To Arthur"

Today (26 September) is Arthur's Day, an annual celebration of the founder of Diageo's Irish stout brand, Guinness.

The day is marked by music-based events in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria and – most prominently – in Ireland, where the brand takes over Dublin for the night. The idea for Arthur's Day dates back to 2009, when Diageo looked to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Arthur Guinness signing a 9,000-year lease for the St James's Gate brewery in the Irish capital.

(That Diageo reportedly came close to selling off the site in 2007 is mentioned here purely as information for the reader.)

I remember being in Dublin as Diageo's guest for this inaugural Arthur's Day and was impressed by the genuine sense of occasion among the revellers in various venues across the city – most memorably in the hop store at St James's Gate. At exactly 17:59 (250th anniversary, geddit), the whole room raised their pints, led by Sir Tom Jones and Ronan Keating; “To Arthur”.

Happy anniversary!

Five months later, in early-2010, Diageo announced plans to promote Arthur's Day on an annual basis. "As a result of the success of Arthur's Day in 2009,” a spokesperson for Diageo told us at the time, “plans are underway to build on its success and momentum with Arthur's Day becoming an annual global marketing initiative for the Guinness brand.”

No longer was there a major anniversary to hook the event on, but so much fun had been had in 2009, Diageo probably thought, why not run it again?

Looking back, it would appear that the company kind of got away with it. Until now.

In the run-up to this year's Arthur's Day, Diageo has suffered a backlash of sorts, with some doctors, psychiatrists, youth workers and musicians in Ireland attacking the concept for encouraging binge-drinking in the country. Further, this charge has been followed today by a withering diatribe from Dublin-based Daily Telegraph columnist Mic Wright.

“Arthur’s Day is so vile because it was dreamed up by PR folk at Diageo in 2009, but is presented as a long-standing tribute to the Guinness founder,” says Wright. “It is 'celebrated' by a blitz of media and free gigs where Irish music fans have pints of the black stuff foisted on them while they listen to average indie bilge. This is Ireland as brand: Guinness is good for you and your nation, and you’d better not disagree.”

I can see his point. The initial Arthur's Day was excellent, precisely because it was celebrating an event more than it was celebrating a brand.

With each year that passes, Arthur's Day looks more like a marketing ploy and less like a justifiable reason to party like it's 1759.