Behind the Buy: Canadian Tire taps TV and sports fans for BBQ season

Tapping sports fans and using weather triggers, Canadian Tire went big to draw grillers into stores.

Canadian Tire just wrapped up a wide-reaching, high steaks campaign to kick off the summer.

The retail giant recently added U.S. BBQ brand Vermont Castings to its swath of exclusive brands, marking a major expansion in its grill offerings. Although the retailer already leads in market share for outdoor cooking, adding Vermont Castings has been a key part of its strategy to stay leading. That’s why the retailer’s last major campaign was all about the grill.

The five-week campaign kicked off at the end of March and wrapped just last week. The pre-launch period began March 26, with the first two weeks focused more on PR, store partnerships and earned media. The main part of the campaign launched April 10 with a mass, multichannel  media buy.

Canadian Tire tapped Omnicom shop Touché! for the buy (with Weber Shandwick on PR and Leo Burnett on creative). TV was the biggest media spend for the campaign – Eva Salem, VP of strategic marketing, calls it the “anchor,” and tells CARD with confidence that it remains “the most effective channel to drive mass awareness for a new brand to the market.”

But the campaign requires a lot of support as well, and Salem says the main purpose the supporting buys serve is to “drive credibility with a discerning audience of grillers.”

This includes a full-funnel digital, social and search campaign across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Google Display; an OOH buy whose heroes include a Union Station takeover and in-arena LED screens at the Scotiabank Arena during both Leafs and Raptors Playoffs games, homepage takeovers on key sports websites during the post-season period for the NHL, NBA and MLB, influencer marketing and in-store activation with more than 70 butcher shops throughout Canada.

“We knew who we were after,” says Salem. “It was actually less about attracting different targets versus attracting our core target with the right message at the right time in their buying journeys.”

One of the the insights that led to its plan was the extensive research that tends to go into barbecue purchases, which led to the digital campaign covering everything from awareness to conversion. “We balanced the need to drive immediate awareness with an ability to story-tell around our core product points… and intercept [audiences] as they moved through the purchase journey. We wanted to grab their attention at the awareness level with key brand messaging and when they are aware of the brand, serve them content that focused on our core RTB and product information at the consideration level.”

But Salem knew it’s easier said than done, when Canadian Tire admittedly had some tough competition. As ubiquitous as it is as a store, says Salem, that same level of knowledge doesn’t extend when it comes to its grill brand. “Canadian consumers already had a lot of love for competitors like Napoleon and Weber,” she says.

Breaking out from the crowd focused on placement more than messaging. She says an example of this is the sports-related online takeovers, as it was aiming primarily at a male-skewed, sports-loving audience and catching them in a place where they were already likely to be.

Some of the digital ads were weather-triggered as well in order to communicate one of its key product points – that the grills are good for year-round use.

Salem outlined a number of “firsts” and new techniques for Canadian Tire. The butcher shop integration was one that was key to the pre-launch strategy. Barbecues were on display with extensive brand signage inside and outside of shop, with staff providing custom-branded butcher paper stickers on all purchases and information on the product to drive shoppers to Canadian Tire. It also went heavy into influencers, which is not typical for most of Canadian Tire’s media buys. The influencers fell mainly in the food, sports and lifestyle categories (including chefs Danny Smiles and Ivana Raca, Leafs alum Darcy Tucker and snowboarder Spencer O’Brien), and social promotion extended to the partnered butcher shops as well.