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Who designed the Guinness Toucan?

toucan advert
Guinness advertisement from 1935

The story of the designing of the famous Guinness toucan.

From its very first appearance in 1935, a Toucan became immediately recognisable as an advertisement for Guinness, the Dublin based brewers. For over 45 years it appeared on many types of advertising and marketing products for Guinness and it became as important a motif as the Guinness Harp.

The idea of using a toucan was born in the advertising agency of S.H.Benson in London. Staff included the talented artist John Gilroy who was newly employed as the poster artist, and among the copywriting team was Dorothy L Sayers, now famous as a writer, poet and playwright, and best known for her amateur detective stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. She had started at the agency in 1922 and worked there while writing books in her spare time.

This team produced some memorable posters for Guinness including several posters in the whimsical "Zoo" series. These included a zoo keeper with a Guinness, a sealion balancing drink on his nose, an ostrich with the shape of a swallowed glass halfway down its neck, a tortoise with a glass of stout on its back, and, of course, the toucan with two Guinness bottles balanced on its beak accompanied a little verse.

Here are two examples of verses which accompanied drawings of the toucan:

(Drawing: standing by two glasses 1935)
If he can say as you can
'Guinness is good for you'
How grand to be a Toucan
Just think what Toucan do.
(Drawing: at the seaside 1949)
'I do like,' says the Toucan,
To be beside the blue.
With Guinness Time in view
can 'You guess what Toucan do'

Gilroy remained with the advertising agency until 1960 during which time he designed many other Guinness posters. As to how animals came to be used in an advertising campaign was recalled later by Gilroy. "The Guinness family did not want an advertising campaign that equated with beer. They thought it would be vulgar. They also wanted to stress the brew's strength and goodness. Somehow it led to animals." [1]

The toucan returned on several occasions on all types of advertising media and on memorabilia. In 1982 Guinness changed advertising agencies and it was decided that the toucan was no longer an effective advertising motif and it was dropped.

However, it still pops its head up on occasions on limited edition products. There is also a strong market for toucan collectibles on .

[1] The Times, Saturday, Apr 13, 1985; pg. 28;

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