Smarts Communicate used social insights to really understand their consumer and the content that would resonate with their Northern Irish customer base. Pairing this with a strong partner, the agency were able to take advantage of The Ulster Fry’s unique and daring tone of voice. To be able to react to cultural moments and current affairs, Smarts Communicate used social media to overcome internal challenges and achieve quick approval, working closely with both legal and compliance. This content partnership and approach saw Harp take on the Goliaths in the booze industry and deliver outstanding financial results.

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Winner entry:

Brief and objectives:

HARP’s voice was at risk of being drowned out in Northern Ireland (NI) by the huge social media spends of global behemoths. HARP needed an innovative, creative and engaging social media campaign that would recruit more of HARP’s target audience of 18-35 year old consumers and increase engagement on social.


  • Increase social community by 5%
  • Content to reach +1.5m (equivalent of NI population)
  • 250k video views
  • Generate 35k interactions on social
  • +80% positive sentiment
  • Amplify ‘Pure Here’ and increase consumer differentiation
  • Improve performance in Take Home Trade (THT)

Rationale behind campaign, including research and planning:

At the end of 2016, HARP launched its ‘Pure Here’ campaign with its first TV advert in three years. ‘Pure Here’ is a play on a local colloquialism which amplifies the fact that HARP is a lager that has been part of the fabric of society in NI for decades. To amplify ‘Pure Here’ on social in 2017, Smarts Communicate needed a plan that would grab the attention of consumers, fit with the brand’s positive ethos and drive brand differentiation.

Google Analytics, Facebook Insights and Socialbakers research showed us that local content – tapping into the quirks specific to NI – with a humorous twist was the best way to grow engagement.

We didn’t have the budget to compete with global beer giants and took a risk by putting our eggs in one basket. We recommended partnering with an established and influential social media platform that aligns with the ‘Pure Here’ mind-set: The Ulster Fry (UF).

Northern Ireland’s answer to satirical news site The Daily Mash, The Ulster Fry is the brainchild of NI comedy writers Ciaran Murray and Ivan Minnis. We researched their appeal and social audience and recognised that our audiences overlapped. The Ulster Fry also had a built-in and engaged social audience three times that of HARP’s.

Strategy and tactics, including creativity and innovation:

Our strategy was to collaborate with UF to tell local stories that brought ‘Pure Here’ to life. We envisaged the content appearing both on our owned social platform and on UF’s channels – a first of its kind partnership for HARP’s parent company, Diageo.

Smarts travelled to Derry City to meet UF founder Ciaran Murray and pitched our partnership proposal to him over a pint of HARP (naturally). Ciaran was open to the idea and keen to develop film content that would support the growth of the Ulster Fry platform, but he was time poor due to the site being a hobby. HARP was supportive of our bold idea to forge a relationship with UF as editorial partners. As a ‘first’ partnership of its kind for UF, making it a reality wouldn’t be straightforward. But we had confidence in the idea and knew it was an exciting opportunity to do something a bit different.

Following our preliminary meeting, we sought input from HARP’s media buying agency CARAT to develop ways of working that would suit all parties. It was agreed UF would act as an extension of Smarts’ content-creation team and would:

  • Create bespoke, non-UF branded content for HARP social channels
  • Work with Smarts to create HARP-related film content that could be hosted on UF channels and shared by HARP
  • Feature HARP in four of their satirical news stories every month

We rigorously reviewed all content ideas and put in place on-going balances, checks and evaluations for the partnership. As a joint editorial team, we met monthly in person and maintained daily contact via phone or Trello.

We brainstormed and actioned ideas that research showed were becoming increasingly influential with our target audience: video content, gifs, filmed vox pops, infographics, memes and games. It became clear that what HARP had lacked on social previously, was content with a local lens that encouraged likes, comments and shares. This learning was front of mind when we began developing content with UF.

Implementation of tactics:

While HARP was showing up subtly but regularly in Ulster Fry stories in early 2017 (it was crucial that HARP appeared naturally and that its mention didn’t jar with their readership) work was going on behind the scenes to create short films that could be hosted on UF and/or Harp’s Facebook page.

One of these shorts ‘John Joe: Norn Iron’s Personal Assistant’ featured HARP throughout and was watched nearly half a million times across Facebook and YouTube, with 26.4k interactions, 6.5k shares and an interaction score of 378 per 1000 fans – an incredible result for a small brand with modest budgets.

In the second half of the year, we created the ultimate Northern Ireland road trip in the form of a seven part online comedy series, named ‘Pure Here & There’ which we ran on the Harp Facebook page weekly from October–December 2017. The series was created to support the launch of limited edition ‘Pure Here’ beer cans, the first product innovation from HARP in five years.

The tour saw two local characters with an appetite for adventure travel around the six counties of Northern Ireland – plus Belfast – in a trusty(ish) HARP campervan. Many of the films featured cameo appearances by influencers from that particular county including legendary NI football commentator Jackie Fullerton and Irish rugby captain Rory Best. Each episode was promoted through an influencer seeding programme, which meant the weekly videos landed with the media, influencers and organisations from that particular region.

Across all episodes, the Pure Here & There Tour generated more than 1.3m views online.

Measurement and evaluation:

As a result in 2017 we:

  • Increased our social community by 25%
  • Reached 9.2million through our social content
  • Generated 2.2million video views and 691k interactions
  • 247% increase in comments vs 2016
  • 158% increase in shares vs 2016
  • 98% positive sentiment for Ulster Fry/Harp content
  • HARP grew market share and achieved profit in THT for first time in four years.

Budget and cost effectiveness:

HARP Brand Manager Jeanette Levis said: “Smarts recognised that ‘Pure Here’ sat naturally with The Ulster Fry and the results of the collaboration have been off-the-scale incredible. Our meaningfulness and differentiation scores have gone up and HARP’s catchy social content is driving conversations in the pubs, in the offices, and on the streets of Northern Ireland.”