• Transform magazine
  • April 04, 2020


Recognising the superlatives

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Guinness World Records, known between 1955 and 1998 as the Guinness Book of Records, is first and foremost a reference book, charting amazing feats of people across the globe.

In Western markets, the brand enjoys its biggest sales share during the Christmas period. In 2015, Guinness World Records published 2.8 million books, in 26 languages, in 100 countries, across 16 weeks.

Yet sustaining an iconic brand with a history rooted in the pages of a reference book inevitably presents some challenges.

Ensuring the historic name remains relevant in a world characterised by digital platforms and instant media means diversifying away from the original list format, while retaining the essential spirit of the Guinness World Records brand.

Following its appearance at annual international advertising festival, Cannes Lions 2016, Transform caught up with Sam Fay, senior vice president of global brand strategy at Guinness World Records, to discuss the opportunities and challenges of managing a global brand – as well as what the future has in store for the company.


Sam Fay, SVP global brand strategy, Guinness World Records

Transform: So first of all, what makes the Guinness World Records brand unique. What are its brand values?

GWR: On a basic level we’re unique because we really don’t have any competition. I think the reason that we’re unique and an enduring brand is recognising the superlatives.

So recognising the best in the world, whether that’s the tallest, smallest, fastest, smelliest, we measure things and record them and share that content. That’s what makes us unique. Our tagline is ‘Officially Amazing’, and we see our purpose in the world as inspiring people to discover their true potential.

Our values are integrity, respect, inclusiveness and passion – the integrity of our record holders is important, but it’s that passion, I’ve never met anyone in 13 years that doesn’t think that record breaking is interesting or exciting. And once they start to understand what we do, how we record and measure and share the facts of the world, it’s a lot of fun.

Obviously Guinness World Records is such a unique brand, and you’re in a good position to be able to deliver this interesting thing for people without much competition. Do you think this gives you a brand advantage?

It is an advantage, but because we don’t have any competition it’s an unusual advantage. Because we’re so inclusive we’ll accept record attempts and record requests from anywhere, it doesn’t matter your age, your culture, your country, your religion – we have 50,000 records on our database and we can only fit around 4000 records in the book.

So it’s our inclusiveness and diversity – whether you’re working in the pharmaceutical industry, or the motor industry, or retail, or FMCG, there are ways to measure and ways to specify records from all walks of life. And yes that definitely gives us an advantage; but I think that’s what makes us interesting.

So how important is creativity to the success of the GWR brand?

The book is creative in itself because it’s a snapshot of all the weird and wonderful things that people do all year round. But we’ve only started working with brands and agencies and businesses since 2010, so only for six years. Whether its Intel, or Jaguar, or Hyundai, or it might be Santander – all these brands are trying to find a way to stand out in a cluttered marketplace where you’re being bombarded with thousands of messages every day. If you can find a way to break a record – not just launch your product or have a press event or an engagement event – it just gives that added edge of difference. I think that’s why we’ve become so appealing in recent years, because it’s a different way for brands to get their messages out there.

I can definitely see the value in that. I think as a consumer you take a lot more notice of a brand that’s got a world record to its name. So what would you say are the main ingredients behind a creative campaign? What really makes it special and stand out?

The presentation I did at Cannes was about ‘How to be a legend in your lunch hour’ and the five qualities that we believe makes a person or a brand a record breaking legend – imagination, differentiation, dedication, validation and amplification. But what all our case studies have in common is having a really creative idea to highlight why one product is different than the other.

In the example of Jaguar, it’s not just saying, “We’ve got our first SUV coming out, it’s called the F-PACE,” but it’s about actually going out to Frankfurt Motor Show and building the largest loop-the-loop, inspired by the Hot Wheels version, and sending a Jaguar around there. Our creative team, whether that’s the brand themselves or the agency, are thinking outside the box about how you can demonstrate that your product is the best in the world. Jaguar was absolutely thrilled with the results, and I think its finding that edge and that different idea that we can then turn into a record we can measure.

So for your brand is ‘real-life marketing’ still one of the main draws for you? Or is digital becoming increasingly important for you to market the brand?

In terms of digital, I think being able to come up with a campaign that works across multiplatform is increasingly important. It’s about looking for content that’s really unusual, having a great picture, having a great hook. But I think companies are increasingly getting clever at using video content, and we’ve seen a real surge in that. If you’ve got a quality-shot, highly well-produced video going across all of your platforms, that’s definitely one of the ingredients for success and creativity.

Do you think that extends the brand appeal to a broader demographic?

Definitely. We picked up a new audience, because we’ve always appealed to parents and kids, but also had that universal appeal for our programming and our licencing. But with digital we’ve gone for that Millennial audience – we were quite surprised initially to learn that its 18-34, predominantly male, so since we’ve learnt that we’re tailoring our content more towards that audience. But there were several comments at Cannes about ‘age-agnostic marketing’, and I think we appeal right across the board, because there’s a lot of an older generation that really remember Record Breakers, and the book, and about Guinness World Records when they were kids. It has that enduring appeal.

But we’ve definitely picked up a younger audience from our digital platforms. Increasingly as we’re in schools and we do our live record breaking with companies, I don’t think there’s any sort of age range that we don’t reach.

What is the most challenging part of managing the Guinness World Records brand? With so many outposts, is it difficult to maintain a coherent identity?

Western audiences see the brand in a similar way, as a book first then as more of an endorsement and working with brands. It’s the complete opposite in Japan and China - the majority of our business comes through partnerships, licencing, brands and agencies. Our longest standing brand partner is with Panasonic, which operates out of Japan, and has the record for the longest-lasting double AA alkaline battery. One of the reasons I always end up talking about it, apart from the fact that they’ve worked with use for the last eight years continuously, is that they’ve taken that record and put it on publishing, on packaging and POS – but they’ve also created a robot that climbs the Grand Canyon and community outreach programs.

But probably the challenge in the Eastern market is selling the book, because they’re very well-known with brands and agencies. So you know, the simplicity about managing the brand is about the fact that record-breaking seems to have a human and timeless appeal. The challenge is that the business models are different for different markets, so for the predominantly western markets including Europe, we’re sort of book first. And that brings its own challenges in terms of making people realise that we do lots of other things as well, in terms of TV licensing, digital, and our latest venture which is live events.

Do you think that team spirit helps with employee engagement? Aligning your brand values with all the employees and participants over the world?

We did a staff survey at the end of last year - 93% of people that work for us said that they were proud to work for Guinness World Records. And I’m incredibly cheered by that, because even if you’re having a really bad day, I look at that statistic and think 93% of people ticked the box to say, ‘I am proud to work for GWR, this company and this brand.’ So people feel inherently that Guinness World Records is part of them, and it’s something to be proud of, and it definitely helps with that protection and promotion of the brand wherever we go. People think we’re bigger than we are, having that global reach and a famous brand name, but less than 200 people globally work for Guinness World Records.

I’ve been to Western Samoa, and heard, “Oh wow, Guinness World Records!”, so there’s definitely a word-of-mouth appeal. Also inherently, in yourself, you want to be the best at something, you want to be known for doing something really well, and that’s human nature. And we believe that everyone, anywhere in the world, any age, is good at something, and we want to help find that. That’s why we have enduring appeal. We don’t publish the book in every territory, and we don’t have a TV show in every territory, so I think it comes down to more of a natural human instinct.

You’re obviously very engaged with getting the best out of people. Do you have any CSR programmes, partnerships with charities, or funded initiatives?

Around 38% of the business and brands that come to us is to fulfil their corporate social responsibility programme. So we’re used by charities and brands to spread the word, whether they want us to come in and do a day of record-breaking for employee engagement, which is one of our division. Or it might be they want to use us like Virgin London Marathon, which we’ve been partnered with for eight years. So instead of just running, they’re running to break a record. That might be the fastest time dressed as a superhero, fastest time dressed as a vegetable or a fruit, or most people linked together

Lots of companies will come to use to either for their own employee engagement, and we’ll run programmes. It might be just for a day, or it might last. So it’s always interesting when I’m asked about CSR, because the programme we’re creating that is going into schools next year is based that belief that everyone is good at something. So we’re having a day in school where anyone can do record breaking, and we’re calling it ‘Achievement Day.’ We’re also working on our own programme that we’re rolling out for next year, but to be honest we do so much with so many charities I can’t think of one we haven’t worked with over the years. There’s so many community engagement, CSR-inspired records that we’re quite surprised, it always used to be a small part of our business but now its 38% of the reasons why people want to work with us.

That sounds fun. So, that aside – what is the next thing GWR is planning on doing? 

The next thing for us is opening our first Guinness World Records attraction. We’re owned by the same group as Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and it has expertise in the attractions arena so we’ve been planning since 2007 to open a Guinness World Records attraction – like Legoland but for record breaking.

We’re opening the first one of those up in North America next autumn, and that will be the start of many. The next step for GWR is moving into that live entertainment and attraction arena, keeping it real. And yes we’re still publishing 2.8mn books in 26 languages in 100 countries in 16 weeks, but we think that live experience is even more important to people. So you might want to go digital and share it, you also want to be able to go and experience something you can share with your friends and family. In terms of brand strategy, it’s an incredibly exciting brand to work on because it’s got so many dimensions to it. So that’s the next big thing.

Guinness World Records will be talking creating memorable brand experience during the Embracing Experiential session at the annual Transform Conference Europe.

Held in London on 7 July, this is a must-visit event for branding professionals.

For more information, email Michelle at mkibble@transformmagazine.net, or follow us on Twitter @TransformEvents @Transformsays


Photo credits: Intel Corporation, Guinness World Records