Smithwicks logo (previous)

The Client

Guinness Import Company (Canada) Limited, then importer of Smithwicks Irish Dark Ale.

Business Objective

Increase brand growth and minimize cannibalization by new GIC(C)L brands.


Smithwicks was Canada’s leading imported ale in draught format, and had experienced double-digit growth for over five years. This growth was primarily in the traditional pub segment of the licensee channel. By early 1996, it appeared that growth in the pub channel was becoming limited, and more competitive imported ales were being introduced, including Kilkenny, one of Guinness’s own. In the first quarter of 1996, Smithwicks registered its first-ever sales decline.

The Strategy

Reposition Smithwicks as fellowship, and give it an authentic Irish personality relevant to the current imported ale drinker.

Radio was chosen as the medium best able to quickly reach the imported ale drinker in geographic markets where brand distribution justified advertising support; radio also allowed for effective message frequency at the client’s budget levels.

The Execution

Competitive advertising focused on product attributes. Coyote decided to focus on the consumer benefit: the fun and rejuvenation of sharing a pint with a few good friends.

Four professional comedians were directed to improvise conversation on a number of relevant topics: relationships, personal finances, sports, the enjoyment of beer. Four hours of running conversation were edited down to three Smithwicks Dialogues spots: Figure Skating, Home Brew & Romance.

The goal was to be authentic, which in this context requires being provocative. But these were the days when all beverage alcohol scripts needed broadcaster approval, a painful process.

The Smithwicks brand name was introduced only if it fit naturally into the conversation.

The Results

The early spring campaign reversed the brand’s unexpected decline experienced earlier in the year. Advertised markets outperformed unadvertised markets by 11%. This was achieved while Kilkenny, a lighter Irish ale, targeted at a younger consumer, was successfully introduced by GIC(C)L alongside Smithwicks.

Coincidentally, Heineken introduced its North American “Overheard” campaign, very similar in concept to our Smithwicks creative concept, six months after this campaign aired in Canada.

Within a year of this success, new senior management elected to move marketing support away from Smithwicks in favour of focusing on Guinness stout.

Campaign Creative Credits

Creative Direction: Tony Spencer

Copywriting: Tony Spencer

Music & Sound Production: John ( JC ) Clarke