How Guinness Reached Nigeria's Younger Drinkers Through Neuroscience, Rappers and Silky Sofas

Inside our 'Flavour Rooms' for the brand

Guinness. It's a classic, beloved drink. Yet despite its iconic imagery and, let's be honest, outstanding flavor, Ireland's greatest still has to work a little harder on some demographics. 

Guinness Foreign Extra Stout launched in Nigeria in 1962. Even though the country is actually Guinness' second-largest market, its reputation as a dark, bitter pint with a high ABV and premium price point to match saw younger Nigerian drinkers reluctant to go all-in. 

When Guinness tapped HeyHuman in a bid to impress Nigeria's younger drinkers, we knew we had a job on our hands. In theory, the objective was simple: recruit drinkers 18 and 34 years old into the brand through a physical experience that could be seen by millions.

In practice: a little harder. 

To reframe Guinness, we needed to transform how people experienced it. It's a beer with real flavor and character. We needed a new language to reflect that. 

Conducting neuroscience research on our target audience, we found words like "bold," "rich," "refreshing" and "bittersweet" to be among the most motivating. But given Guinness's profile in Nigeria as a drink you have to get used to, those words mean very little if you're only having a single-sample sip. We needed to convince people to not just to taste Guinness, but to experience it. To feel it. 

So we created Guinness Flavour Rooms.

Neuroscientists have found that when multiple senses are engaged simultaneously, more areas of the brain are activated, creating a more memorable, immersive experience. Crossmodal perception, which involves interactions between two or more different sensory modalities, demonstrates how altering just one sensory aspect can change and enhance flavor perception.

Guinness Flavour Rooms was an ode to this idea: a multisensory arena where people could explore the richness and depth they imagined when describing Guinness. 

Touch, taste and scent were all isolated from Guinness's multi-faceted flavor. Bold, bittersweet, rich and refreshing were identified as the four characteristics which the immersive rooms would base their environments upon.

See a gallery of photos from the experience here:

The experience began with a walk through the unmistakable Guinness harp, straight into a soundproofed black tunnel. This served as a "sense cleanser," if you will—it wiped the slate clean for what was ahead. 

The four rooms comprised:

Bold

An eye-popping room that celebrated the boldness of African culture, featuring curated performances, designs and flavor from the world of fashion, music, art, dance and food—each complementing Guinness's bold flavors.

Bittersweet

A room of contradictions, this room featured interactive projections and optical illusions that played on the duality of Guinness' bittersweetness. Juxtaposing shapes, furniture and colors created an interior design that mirrored Guinness's contrasting aroma and flavors. 

Rich

Adorned with lavish, smooth, silky textures, this room was full of comfy sofas and warm lights to let the colors and fabrics sing. It offered the perfect environment to unwind and enjoy a rich Guinness.

Refreshing

This room was shrouded in a misty fragrance of toasted barley, with ethereal music oozing through overhead speakers to create a dreamlike state—replete with a chiller booth, ready for Instagram shots. 

The rooms were all tied together with a Guinness bar, where Nigerian influencers and performers like Burna Boy, BellaNaija, Mai Atafo, Brymo and the Mbadiwe Twins rubbed shoulders with drinkers. 

Across three nights, more than 1,400 guests experienced the Flavour Rooms. 

The result? Guinness became not just the most talked-about beer brand, but the most talked-about brand, full stop, in Nigeria, hoarding 75 percent share of voice in the market. 

We achieved a social reach of 25 million—that's 5 million more than anticipated. 

It was an efficient way to disrupt a massive sector—something of a benchmark for immersive experiential in Africa. It smashed younger drinkers' preconceptions of what Guinness was; it's not just a drink you savor for special occasions, an "event" drink. It's Guinness. 

And if it's good enough for an entire country, that'll do me.

Profile picture for user Neil Davidson
Neil Davidson
Neil Davidson is CEO of behavioral communications agency HeyHuman.

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