On New Year’s Eve of 1759, Arthur Guinness signed the paperwork for a 9,000-year lease of the St. James’s Gate Brewery. It took him ten years to export the first Guinness ale, and over the ensuing 250 years, Guinness established itself as one of the most recognized names in beer.
That being said, as the centuries unfolded and beer became more and more popular, competition arose. Names like Anheuser-Busch, Heineken, and Carlsberg began appearing right next to Guinness’s logo. In the 1950’s, almost 200 years after the founding of Guinness, sales were being threatened in one of the company’s biggest markets: the United States.
So Guinness traveled to the US to find a smart marketing company that could help differentiate the Guinness brand from all the other competitors in the market. Lucky for them, they were referred to an up-and-coming creative director named David Ogilvy.
Back in those days, ads appeared in fewer places than they do today—mostly in print and on TV. So Ogilvy began brainstorming ad concepts for Guinness, racking his brain for ideas that would help separate the company from the pack. As he flipped through a book on shellfish written by a Yale biologist, Ogilvy wondered how he could mix customers’ love for fine cuisine with an interest in ordering a Guinness.
The result of this brainstorm was the Guinness Guide To Oysters. In it were nine illustrations of different types of oysters along with short captions explaining how each paired with a glass of Guinness beer.
This was the first ad of its kind. It immediately catapulted Ogilvy into the heavy-hitter marketing club. The reason it performed so well is that, unlike other beer ads, the Guinness Guide To Oysters educated beer fans by sharing a fact that they probably weren’t aware of—that Guinness, although it is a beer, compliments the taste of oysters in a unique way.
This was useful and actionable information that had a direct tie-in to the decision of whether or not to drink Guinness, and (perhaps more importantly) it expanded the universe of possible situations in which someone could order a Guinness. It also had the added benefit of creating curiosity around what an oyster paired with a Guinness would taste like.
The Guinness Guide To Oysters is an example of Educational content (the other two types are Inspirational and Entertaining content— you can read more on that in Snake Oil). Educational content is not about just blasting your audience with random information, like a lot of business coaches do on Instagram. It is not about creating promotional videos or whitepapers on how great your product is. Instead, high-quality Educational content presents and expands on an idea that your audience has never thought about before. It illustrates possibilities that they would not have considered on their own.
Think of the people who are reading the Guinness Guide To Oysters. Are they feeling like they’re being taught something? No. Are they feeling exhausted by someone talking at them? No. They’re being presented with content that introduces a new idea into their minds—the idea of pairing a Guinness with an oyster.
It’s easy to understand.
And it makes them want to try it.
Sure, there are people out there who don’t like oysters, and there are people out there who don’t like beer. This ad isn’t for those people. It’s for the people who see that ad and think, “hmm… that sounds interesting.” —and then their stomach rumbles.
This is a perfect example of using Educational content in the right way. Start thinking about ways that your audience can incorporate your product into their lives, specifically in ways they haven’t thought of before. If you do it correctly, it will feel subtle and captivating. If you’re doing it wrong, it will feel forced and dry. If you aren’t sure how it feels, try it out with a few friends, colleagues, or even existing customers who know and trust you. It is up to you to find that new, creative angle that causes prospective customers to think, “hmm… I’ve never thought of that.”