John Smith's Bitter, brewed in Tadcaster, Yorkshire, since 1847, is one of Northern England's most famous ales and Britain's No. 1 bitter brand. Its TV campaigns produced some of the U.K.'s best-known advertising.
John Smith was 24 when he purchased a run-down brew house. He realized that Tadcaster's abundant supply of hard water, necessary for the brewing process, offered the area the potential to become one of the country's most prominent brewing centers. Over the years, the company acquired numerous other breweries until, in 1970, John Smith's was taken over by Courage Ltd., which subsequently became Scottish Courage Ltd., after Scottish & Newcastle purchased it from Fosters Brewing Group in 1995.
First TV commercials
John Smith's first TV spots, which ran in 1971, featured Yorkshiremen who were unwilling to travel to distant football matches if it meant giving up their pint of John Smith's.
In 1979, the company ran the first of four key campaigns featuring one of British advertising's most well-known characters: the aging, flat-capped Arkwright. These continued until 1988 and won numerous advertising awards.
Three years later, the brewer launched a campaign called "Great Stuff" and, while lager advertising became increasingly flashy and aggressive, John Smith's broke the mold with its "Back to Basics" campaign that featured a beautifully lighted pint standing on its own.
John Smith's greatest advertising coup was the much-publicized addition of the widget for the launch of its Draught in 1993. A widget is a metal spiral built into the beverage can that ensures that the beer pours and behaves like draught bitter. Although the technology was invented by Guinness, John Smith's capitalized on it with an ad campaign that led it to be associated almost exclusively with the John Smith brand name.
The popular campaign not only drove take-home sales even higher but also brought the word "widget" into everyday use in Britain. The commercials, which debuted in 1992, featured the then-relatively unknown comedian Jack Dee. Each spot ended with the tagline, "When you've got a widget?you don't need gimmicks."
The gimmicks, which included dancing ladybirds and penguins, provided the comic touch and complemented Mr. Dee's trademark deadpan delivery. Boase Massimi Pollitt created the ads, and Mandy Fletcher, well known for the popular and critically acclaimed "Blackadder" TV comedy series, directed them.
A new campaign launched in 1998 incorporated a cardboard cutout, No-Nonsense Man, which appeared in more than 20,000 pubs, clubs and shops.
John Smith's advertising had been handled by GGT Advertising, which, through a series of mergers in the late 1990s, became part of TBWA. In 2001, Omnicom Group's TBWA took over John Smith's TV, radio, print and poster work, while Eleven, formerly Carlson, produced point-of-purchase marketing materials, direct-mail campaigns and events.