Johnsonville Champions Backyard Cookouts

Patrycja Malinowska
Director, Member Content, P2PI | profile
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Johnsonville Sausage rallied around a “Best of the Backyard” theme for its overarching summer 2021 marketing campaign, bringing on board longtime collaborator Bush Brothers & Co. for their first-ever, large-scale national partnership.

“When we put this program together [in December of the year before], we didn’t really know what summer was going to look like this year…so we kind of took the little more conservative approach and thought, ‘no matter what happens in summer 2021, people are going to get together in their backyard,’” says Fiona Redhair, marketing manager at Johnsonville.

The resulting theme of “backyard bests” — positioning Johnsonville dinner sausage links as the best cookout protein paired with Bush’s baked beans as the best cookout side — resonated with shoppers and retailers alike while remaining flexible enough to allow for account-specific activations tailored to each participating retailer’s receptivity of particular tactics.

Johnsonville and Bush’s activated their respective sponsorships of the American Cornhole League (ACL) to tie the campaign back to not only eating and grilling in the backyard, but also having fun and playing games — specifically cornhole, which only requires one hand to toss a bag, conveniently leaving the other free for eating a brat. Another ACL sponsor, Pit Boss, also came on board.

The main crux of the campaign involved a sweepstakes running on a flexible timeline, supported by P-O-P activity plus digital layers where possible. Consumers uploaded receipts showing qualifying Johnsonville/Bush’s purchases to a promotional website to vie for backyard prize kits, and could earn additional entries by engaging with the brands’ grilling videos and recipes. PrizeLogic administered the sweepstakes. Additional support included social media activity plus a retail-focused TV spot that ran during ESPN and CBS broadcasts of ACL tournaments from May through August.

Retail partners ranged from the biggest chains in the U.S. to small independent grocers, with some boasting over-the-top displays, account-specific prize pools and unique activations. Johnsonville sent their Big Taste Grill and cornhole pros to a few events in the Hy-Vee market, for example. Incremental display, a Hy-Vee Seasons magazine feature and digital banner ads provided extra support. Albertsons Cos. also got behind the program like never before, holding its own internal division virtual cornhole tournament. The grocer also offered a meat manager incentive that drove creative display building and merchandising.

The largest retailers opted out of the sweepstakes component, but got on board with the overall theme and the Johnsonville/Bush’s pairing. “There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all, especially on the e-commerce side with each of these retailers, so you go through their media groups and you find a way to work within [their restrictions],” Fiona says.

For example, Target does not promote brand sweeps, and Walmart preferred a unique “Let’s Get Grilling” message. So Johnsonville worked with each retailer’s e-commerce teams to get on-site banner ads or offsite media under a backyard grilling theme, with all the creative linking to e-commerce pages.

The effort even brought in new retail partners outside of Johnsonville’s home territory, such as mid-Atlantic grocer Weis Markets. The smallest independent grocers received an easy-to-execute and flexible sales kit designed to support summer grilling that included promotional POS materials, plus a soft-sided cooler they could put up for display and then use as a prize in a giveaway.

The campaign delivered great results in a difficult environment, increasing share of total dinner sausage links over not just 2020, but also 2019. The sweepstakes amassed more than 275,000 consumer engagements, including 65,000 unique entrants and 57,000 opt-ins for more information from Johnsonville.

The effort also drove increased brand awareness and connection with Bush’s baked beans among a younger consumer group. “The program saw strong engagement, improved brand equity and helped us get in-store support in a record number of chains,” says Penny Caudill, Bush’s brand manager.

Planning is already underway for the 2.0 version of the Best of the Backyard program slated for summer of 2022, and Johnsonville has recruited Kingsford to join the effort.