BP Smurfs are National Benzole gas station Smurfs from 1978 and onwards.
A family was born...
The Smurfs were originally created by a Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford in 1958 who was searching for a catchy name for a "family" of new cartoon characters. Pierre, or Peyo as he later became known as, thought that "Les Schtroumpfs" (Flemish for thingamabob or whatchamacallit) seemed like a natural name. The characters quickly became popular and appeared in comic strips, books, and films in not just Belgium but all across Europe. In Italy they were known as Puffi, in Spain as Pitufos, in Germany as Schlümpfe and Smurfs in the UK.
A report was commissioned by BP Holland in May 1969 to do a serious study of the phenomenon from the Dutch Institute of Psychological Research. On the basis of their findings BP decided to bring these small blue creatures to their aid.
National Benzole and Smurfs join forces...
Between November 1977 and January 1978 a test run was made at 7 National Service Stations in the London area. The figurines were sold at £0.36p and two were available free based on the collection of vouchers.
On May 20th 1978 National Benzole introduced Smurf advertising to the UK at its service stations and TV / radio and press publicity campaigns got under way. The first TV advertisement was broadcast on May 22nd. The company incorporated the Smurf name since it suited a new advertising slogan for service and fun: "National - Service with a Smurf!" This was the first time a company had used character advertising in such a way. Besides music and publishing rights, National Benzole held total control of Smurf merchandising in the UK. A week after the advertising campaign started by National, the pop record, dormant at 78th place on the pop charts, jumped to 10, then 7, then 5 and finally to 2 where it stayed for 7 weeks.
The Smurf figures were offered for sale at a recommended price of £0.36p allowing the dealer a gross margin profit of 15% per sale. However some sites did offer them initially at a higher price (the highest noted was £0.47p). Not all National dealer sites joined the campaign initially but by August 1978 90% of National Dealer sites had signed up to the promotion. Smurf stickers were offered free at service stations.
Although the Smurfs were originally introduced as a marketing promotion to boost BP retail sales, with National Benzole capitalizing on Smurf popularity, the Smurfs and BP ended up doing much more together. BP produced a wide variety of items such as village building sets, jigsaws, T-shirts, stationery and confectionery. The campaign ran through to the Moscow Olympics in 1980, for which special Smurf sports characters were produced.
It is believed after September 1978 there were some promotional campaigns to collect vouchers for free figurines. During 1979 special edition Smurf figurines were produced for each month of the year (a Valentine's Day Smurf in February, etc). There was a slight glitch in the campaign in October 1978 due to fears of lead in the paint and the dangers of children putting the figurines in their months. However the campaign was re-launched once it was clear that the paint on Smurf figurines was 100% lead-free.
The mass appeal of the Smurfs, led by Papa Smurf, saw the characters escalate from being just collectible figurines to becoming champions of road safety, child safety, health, dental hygiene and of good social behavior. The Smurfs provided a captivating image catching the attention of motorists and their families, and causing line-ups at gas stations that ensured that National was able to hold its own through the highly competitive trend that the market was taking.
The introduction of the Smurfs - and BP and inexorably linked. Thanks to BP, millions of kids got "Service with a Smurf!"