Guinness has St Patrick's Day firmlytin the bag.

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Related tags: St patrick, Ireland

Ben McFarland looks at the brand's strategy for the big dayThe other patron saints must look down from upon their clouds and wonder where it all went...

Ben McFarland looks at the brand's strategy for the big day

The other patron saints must look down from upon their clouds and wonder where it all went wrong.

St George showed unquestionable courage and valour to slay a dragon, St Andrew impressed the ladies north of the border by dancing on swords and the Christian missionary St David often stood in a lake of cold water reciting scripture as a self imposed penance. However, none of these achievements warrant the kind of attention enjoyed by their Irish counterpart St Patrick.

And what did he do that was so special? Well, according to a blend of folklore, hearsay and legend, St Patrick was born across the Irish Sea in Wales at the beginning of the 5th Century. At an early age he was kidnapped and sold in Ireland as a slave where he tended animals for his Irish master before making a successful escape to France. Before long, he returned to Ireland where he became best known for introducing Christianity and banishing snakes from the Emerald Isle. The story goes that he hoodwinked a particularly cunning serpent into a box before throwing it into the sea. So now you know.

However, come March 17, only the most fervent traditionalists will be seen tip-toeing around the streets looking for audacious snakes or reading psalms to oblivious passers-by, as the majority of those celebrating St Patrick's Day will be doing so inside the confines of a pub.

It is only within the last decade that St Patrick's Day has really taken off and established itself as a key date in the reveller's calendar and with March 17 falling on a Saturday, this year's celebrations are the most eagerly anticipated so far.

Unlike George, David and Andrew, St Patrick has managed to gain a following beyond his native homeland and thanks to the migratory tendencies of the Irish, he is now celebrated all over the world.

In fact, when compared with the United States and elsewhere, St Patrick's Day is a somewhat muted affair in its homeland.

Traditionally, the greatest celebrations outside Ireland have taken place in the United States, with the largest parade being held in New York - home to a huge number of Irish Diaspora - while in Chicago, the river is dyed green for the day.

Although the scale of celebrations over here are relatively restrained compared with the US, the time when St Patrick's Day merely consisted of born and bred Englishmen desperately trying to justify a vague Gaelic heritage by saying "Top of the morning to you" over and over again are long gone.

However, the popularity of St Patrick's Day seems to have coincided with a waning interest in all things Irish. Fiddledy-dee theme pubs with bicycles on the ceiling, twee Irish road signs and imitation Gaelic folk music are no longer in vogue.

However, while the ye-olde Irish bubble appears to be on the verge of bursting, Guinness has hijacked the St Patrick's Day vehicle by modernising the event and at the same time enhancing its synonymy with the Emerald Isle.

This year, in a move that has eclipsed all previous efforts, Guinness has invested a staggering £4.9million in a marketing venture that includes the brand's first TV advertisement for three years, radio promotions and bus advertising.

Guinness has predicted that more than nine million pints of the black stuff will be drunk on March 17 and expects more than 16,000 outlets to take part in Guinness branded activity on the night. In fact, so strong is the Guinness presence on the night that the general feeling among other "Irish" brands seems to be one of resignation.

Although Interbrew has adopted a more grass roots approach to raising the profile of Murphy's Irish Stout through predominantly stockist-based promotions and tailor-made support initiatives for its multiple accounts, it has chosen not to try and compete with the omnipotent Guinness on a national scale.

Last year, Murphy's Interbrew stable-mate, Caffrey's, decided to play down its Gaelic credentials by dropping "Irish Ale" from its name and has consequently decided to keep a low profile until its planned re-launch this summer.

Likewise, Scottish Courage has no activity whatsoever planned for either of its Beamish Black or Beamish Red brands.

A spokesperson for the company was surprisingly acquiescent. "It does not take a professor to work out that it is simply not worth spending the money it would take to try and hijack the event," he said.

However, St Patrick's Day should not be seen solely in black and white. Jameson Irish Whiskey has embarked on a number of on-trade promotions to coincide with its £1million "What's The Rush" satellite TV advertising campaign. It has designed a cocktail for the event, cryptically titled "St Patrick's Day" and has been busy touting itself as the authentic ingredient in an Irish coffee.

For many Irish-themed pubs and bars, St Patrick's Day marks the busiest and most profitable night of the year and there are a number of outlets laying on special tailor-made events.

The London-based Porterhouse, opened by Taoiseach Bertie Aherne last summer, has planned a week of St Patrick's Day festivities featuring the best stouts, ales and lagers from Ireland's independent breweries, an assortment of comedy, live music and even a medieval Irish banquet - and not a Guinness in sight!

The Bass-owned pub chain O'Neills has eschewed the quaint traditional Irish theme, instead opting for a more modern and international advertising campaign with the strapline "Come and give praise."

Joe McGrath, marketing manager for O'Neills, said: "We've done a lot of research and O'Neills comes across as inherently Irish.

"However, we try to deliver the professional attitude of Ireland rather than the stereotypical American view of Ireland with its leprechauns and so on. People are more sophisticated than that and understand Irishness better than they used to - helped by a lot of second and third generation Irish in the UK."

If all this modernisation leaves you a bit cold then you can always revert to the time-honoured and most famous toast to St Patrick which even contains advice for moderation - don't drown the shamrock too much!

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