Born on the 30th of May 1898 at Whitley Bay, Newcastle upon Tyne, his father William Gilroy was a marine landscape painter and technical draughtsman and it was obvious from an early age that John junior was going to follow in his footsteps.
In 1925 Gilroy embarked on his long association with the advertising agency SH Benson Ltd (Benson's), for whom Gilroy worked as an in-house artist.
In 1928 Benson's won the Guinness advertising account and Gilroy became involved with the product with which his work is most closely associated. Gilroy's first known Guinness poster was produced in 1930.
The beer itself had been frought with sluggish sales and needed a boost. Gilroy's first campaign launched in 1930 - "Guinness Is Good For You" - and was an immediate success. Over the next 26 years, Gilroy would produce a veritable Noah’s Ark of creatures – a crocodile, polar bear, ostrich and gnu to name just a few – along with their long suffering zookeeper, a caricature of the artist himself.
In 1955, Gilroy produced ‘Toucan on a Weathervane’, arguably his most iconic Guinness creation.
Gilroy continued to produce Guinness advertisements well into the 1960s even though he left Benson's employment as an in-house artist in the 1940s to continue freelance work.
Gilroy produced more than 100 press advertisements and nearly 50 poster designs for Guinness over 35 years.
John Gilroy's style & its contribution to the brand:
Gilroy once said of his work: ‘The man in the street has no time for contemplation. My posters are, therefore, a kind of aesthetic meal-in-a-minute’.
Celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, Guinness – now part of global drinks company Diageo – remains indebted to the artist. John Roscoe, Diageo’s Marketing Director for Guinness, says: ‘Gilroy created advertising that made people smile and love the brand. He did it in a way which, for the first time, had a consistent look and feel, and laid the foundations for decades of fantastic advertising for Guinness.’
What's truly remarkable about this campaign is that it was a creative, consistent simple campaign that keep the same strategy and look for decades. And no body copy, an anomaly, pre-Mad Men era!
The business results:
By 1950, five million pints of Guinness were being sold every day, more than double the sales volume before Gilroy's campaigns.
By the 1980s, Guinness understood that its posters and advertisements had become embedded in the beer world's collective consciousness and had attained a certain cult status. Guinness posters were replicated and made into decor for the hundreds of thousands of Irish pubs worldwide, further defining the brand and exposing massive audiences to the old poster designs. Replica prints of these famous Guinness posters and tin adverts constitute a healthy market today.
John Gilroy as an artist:
For his contributions to the art world -- including but not limited to his work for Guinness -- John Gilroy was awarded an honorary Masters of Arts from Newcastle University in 1975 and appointed Freeman of the City of London six years later.
John Gilroy died at Guildford on the 11th April 1985, aged 86, and is buried at Ampney St Peter in Gloucestershire.