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How a horse boosted on-trade sales for John Smith's

How a horse boosted on-trade sales for John Smith's


John Smith’s, the UK  ale from Heineken UK, launched Smithy The People’s Horse - a two year multi-faceted marketing campaign - through integrated marketing agency, Space in 2010.  

A campaign was needed to unite John Smith’s sponsorship racing calendar, culminating with the John Smith’s Grand National, under one ‘No Nonsense’ umbrella. The aim was to give John Smith’s drinkers the chance to gain greater access to the world of horse racing and better engagement in this programme.

Heineken and Space have been awarded an MAA Worldwide Globe (Gold), IPM Gold and an MAA Best Award in 2011 for year one of the Smithy campaign, and year two has also been shortlisted for the MAA Best Awards.


For most horse racing fans, their involvement with the sport extends to watching it, reading about it and betting on it, but they don’t fully participate in it as the cost of racehorse ownership prevents them getting fully immersed.

The John Smith’s brand created the opportunity for racing fans to experience the excitement and detail of owning a racehorse without the accompanying financial burden, so John Smith’s purchased a horse for their drinkers and named him Smithy (the Horse). It was No Nonsense. Buy a racehorse and give drinkers a ‘share’ in him.

Year one Communications planning focused the campaign on the on-trade channel with activity developed to engage the drinker from pub door to bar. These were supported by a website to act as a dedicated source of information, enrolment and participation in offers. National media partnerships with key titles like The Daily Mirror and Racing Post were selected for fit, relevance and reach to the target audience.

In year two the campaign was extended to include the off-trade retail market and reshaped in response to drinker feedback to provide a greater depth of engagement with Smithy via new online initiatives, social media and an enhanced calendar of promotions and exclusive events.

The creative strategy put Smithy front and centre of the campaign and all John Smith’s racing communications, allowing him to become the face of John Smith’s racing. Year two’s creative strategy developed Smithy’s personality and creative treatment, placing an emphasis on him being a real racehorse - a direct result of consumer research on the first year campaign.


First and foremost, the execution had to be No Nonsense – taking part was simple. Buy a pint, get a share in Smithy.

The launch campaign in 2010 was targeted at over 6,000 pubs and working men’s clubs across the UK where every pint of John Smith’s came with a ‘No Nonsense Share’ in Smithy, offering customers the thrill of racehorse ownership without the financial commitment. 

Registered shareholders received regular SMS and email communications about Smithy, exclusive access to his training programme via the Smithy website and the opportunity to vote on key decisions on his progress. In addition drinkers were given a free £1 bet on the John Smith’s Grand National, when they purchased a pint in the run up to the flagship sponsorship, as well as being able to take part in a classic sweepstake in their local venues.

Building on the success of the year one activity, Space developed a 2011 Smithy campaign for John Smith’s that included on and off-trade sales channels. The ‘buy a pint, get a share’ promotion was extended to include multi-packs of John Smith’s at key grocery retailers, significantly extending the reach of the promotion.

‘Tailor-made’ activity was developed with ASDA, offering their consumers offered a free John Smith’s glass when purchasing a pack of John Smith’s supported by a significant investment in POS communications. In addition a new Smithy website delivered greater engagement and dialogue with users via live racing updates, video footage, guest blogs and over £50k of racing prizes – keeping customers online for longer and more frequently. In a further build to year one, drinkers were given the chance to win with Smithy’s £1million Grand National Giveaway, giving drinkers the chance to win cash on the John Smith’s Grand National from £5 to £500.

Karen Crowley, Senior Brand Manager, John Smith’s at Heineken UK, says: “Smithy the Horse is the face of John Smith’s racing and this promotion allowed racing fans be a part of the action, follow Smithy’s progress and collect great rewards along the way. Consumer interest reaches fever pitch as we near the John Smith’s Grand National and John Smith’s long, unrivalled association with the sport gives retailers and our on-trade customers the chance to capitalise on the sales opportunity.”


During 2010 the Smithy campaign delivered a significant increase in on-trade share and volume sales. Over 15,000 on-trade kits were sold in. The campaign brought in a 9% redemption of the free bet mechanic (£34,000).

The 2011 campaign saw excellent results with exceptional sales uplift in off-trade, over 2,000% in ASDA, over  500% in Tesco becoming the best performing off-trade activations (for the ale category) from last decade in both Asda and Tesco. 

The on-trade delivered an 1,419% increase in consumer engagement and the total campaign delivered  +182% of target shareholder registrations.  

Interest in horse-racing amongst John Smith’s drinkers up by 60% in 12 months, while awareness of Smithy has doubled in past 12 months and John Smith’s ‘No Nonsense’ equity measure improved by 10 points (sources: Millward Brown)


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