It was clear that John wasn’t going to be allowed to leave the international rugby battlefield quietly and his fans roared their approval as they embraced his desire to leave a living legacy dedicated to raising funds for three charities close to his heart: Bobby Bear; the Chris Burger & Petro Jackson Player’s Fund and LIV.
A month earlier, TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris Durban were briefed by Durban businessmen and personal friends of Smit’s, Terry Rosenberg and Trevor Boynton, to create an advertising campaign around this event. The creative team, Elton Arnot and Marc Fielers working under creative director, Mike Mina had an open brief. But, one statement from Rosenberg proved to be the catalyst to the campaign: “Terry said that this campaign was important because South Africa needed one thing more than anything else … it needed real heroes and John was just that. It was important for the country that he always be remembered as one,” says Mina. With this foremost in mind, the team set out to give a deeper meaning to the event than just one game.
As a captain, John Smit won the Rugby World Cup, the Tri Nations, the Currie Cup, and he beat the British Lions. When he retired from South African rugby after the 2011 rugby World Cup, Smit went straight to England to play out his final season at Saracens and he never got a chance to say farewell properly to his most loyal fans, the fans of Kings Park, where he’d captained The Sharks for many years.
At the end of the English season, Smit decided to retire from rugby and it was suggested that he be given a testimonial game against The Sharks. An event that would be a resounding send-off for a rugby icon by an arsenal of international rugby stars, all friends of Smit, would come together in a once-off game to pay tribute to their captain. In addition, a benefit dinner at Johannesburg’s Sandton Convention Centre was planned for the official launch of the John Smit 111 Foundation. Smit was adamant that he didn’t want to benefit financially from the game or the dinner, but that they should be used as a vehicle to launch the John Smit 111 Foundation.
Mina and his creative team saw the rugby game not as the beginning and end of the job, but as the birth of a movement that would continue to grow; Smit‘s legacy was about to be born. Affectionately known to his friends as Barney, a nickname given to Smit by Boynton in their days at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, it was while this was being bandied around that the team added ‘Army’ to Barney.
Key to the success of this strategy was that Barney’s Army not be a local South African phenomenon and the unique camouflage jerseys designed by TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris Durban developed as much out of a need to brand the team as a multi-national movement, as it was to give it a military look. Luckily, both were catered for and the distinctive livery was born. Only 111 jerseys were made, 22 of which go to the players. The remainder will be auctioned with the proceeds going to the Foundation.
From here the basis of a movement with the potential to expand, fell into place. Commenting on the creative campaign, Smit says: “I can’t take any of the credit for the Barney’s Army campaign - it was a TBWA Durban initiative and one which I totally supported and was really excited by. The military idea of gathering the troops and going forward with a sustainable brand to keep the foundation alive was really exciting.”
With minimal time to plan and execute an awareness campaign, the quickest and most effective way of spreading the message and gathering troops in support of this initiative was to go viral. This was done through the launch of a Barney’s Army Facebook page as well as a website go-to information portal and a Twitter campaign which capitalised on John’s 40 000-strong following.
To create buzz, drive fans to Facebook as well as drive an audience to the website, the fan bases of Smit and multiple sports personalities and platforms were used to leverage the message and went live simultaneously.
Once fans signed up to join Barney’s Army, exclusive content from John Smit, whether actual or approved by him, was published to keep people locked in to the Barney’s Army conversation. With the agency’s mission accomplished, as Barney’s Army marches forward, “Our hope," says Mina “is for the Army to be so successful that it can continue to use rugby to campaign for charity.”
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