Arthur’s Day and the turning of the tide
The growing backlash against Arthur’s Day and Arthur Guinness Projects shows that some in the arts and culture communities have decided that enough is enough
A backlash always happens. After a number of years of overwhelmingly positive coverage and attention, with only a few ungrateful curs spitting in the soup, it was inevitable that Arthur’s Day was going to get a bit of a lashing this year.
First, it was Mike Scott, an artist who has been quite vehement for some time in his social media output against this event, who penned a song called “A Song For Arthur’s Day”. Now comes Christy Moore, with “Arthur’s Day”, a song along similar lines. As the lyrics which Moore posted show, he’s even gone so far as to call out some artists like Manic Street Preachers, Primal Scream, Tom Jones and David Gray about their support for the event. Wonder will we have any Irish artists moaning on about not getting selected to play this year?
Then, there’s also the hangover from the Arthur Guinness Projects’ thing. Since I wrote about that fantastic marketing wheeze, I’ve had tons of emails and conversations with people about it. As often happens, some were from project organisers who were unsuccessful in their efforts to get funds and who then wanted to go on the record after the fact about how they disliked Arthur, Guinness, Diaego and certain AGP judges. People can be very brave after the fact.
Of far more interest, though, were the conversations about how the arts and culture communities’ happy, no-questions-asked embrace of Guinness – not even Guinness money or philanthropy, just Guinness – did not augur well. As Una Mullally subsequently pointed out, it’s a handy presage to what may come down the line.
If these communities are happy to shill for the black stuff with no guarantee whatsoever of a financial return, why shouldn’t the government outsource all arts funding to private companies and the corporate sector? Look at the mad shimmies and shakes, as fine as anything you’ll see in Croker next Sunday or the Saturday after, as attempts are made to ensure sports’ sponsorship by alcohol brands is not outlawed. You could almost sense beancounters in government buildings looking at the amounts spent on arts and culture and mentally knocking the sums off the bank debts. I said “almost”.
What we’re seeing with Arthur’s Day and Arthur Guinness Projects are power-plays. Unlike traditional sponsorship plays, these new initiatives see the patron trying to exert more power and influence from the relationship without paying more for it. The AGP is a case in point, a (hugely successful) attempt by Guinness to get nearly the entire artistic and cultural community to do their bidding for free.
For weeks, your social media timelines were clogged up by unpaid Guinness boosters doing their thing. For weeks, Guinness got overwhelmingly positive coverage for little or no outlay. For weeks, the Guinness marketing lads and lasses were roaring with delight at how their stunt had gone. As someone who salutes great marketing schemes, this was one to note for the textbooks of the future.
In the end, the vast majority got polite PFO letters from Guinness. It appears that the winners are currently bound to silence (one of them tells me that they’re under non-disclosure agreements which are “more onerous than Google”) and will probably be unveiled next week. The spin is to create a good news story around the winners, which the organisers hope will take away from the mutterings of discontent around the overblown contrivances of Arthur’s Day.
Hopefully, though, the growing backlash against the brand and this event will ensure that this won’t happen. Arthur’s Day is an abomination on every single level. It’s a day which highlights and amplifies every single negative aspect of this country’s relationship with alcohol, from the health aspects to the societal effects to augmenting the myth that so many arts and culture events need to depend on alcohol companies or initiatives like this for funding or audience. The backlash won’t solve every single part of this complex issue, but it does show that some are prepared to stop the lights and ask some hard questions.