Carlsberg has increased its UK marketing budget by 500% to £12 million as it seeks to win over new drinkers.

Lager is performing well in the off-trade, with sales up 2.8% in volume and 0.8% in value (IRI, year to January 31) following several years of decline.

But much of the sales increase was driven by last summer’s World Cup, according to IRI, as grocers piled slabs of lager high and brewers invested heavily marketing campaigns.

Carlsberg, the UK’s fourth biggest brand, is the sponsor of Euro 2016 and the England football team, but without a football tournament this summer it knows it has to market its brands differently.

Suits and hipsters walking through Shoreditch this month were confronted by a Carlsberg billboard that gave out free lager from a tap, with the caption: “Probably the best poster in the world.”

Senior brand manager Dharmesh Rana said consumers can expect a lot more of this type of “clever and witty” marketing in the year ahead.

He told OLN: “We will still do great TV advertising – we have lots to do around football and we will still do that – but if we want to attract different beer drinkers we need to do something different.

“This allows us to cut through to a new audience, with Shoreditch hipsters, bringing the brand to life in a different way outside TV.

“We have a pipeline with some great things. There’s some cool stuff coming up.

“It’s a big year. We have six times more investment this year than we have ever had before.

“That’s a strategic plan. The UK business went to the group and asked for more money to make sure the UK business is really strong.

“It’s a solid commitment from the group to say ‘we are backing the UK’. It’s a tough marketplace, one of the most competitive out there, but one that the group wants us to win in. The investment is there for the next six years. We will have this budget each year if we deliver.”

He added: “‘If Carlsberg did’ and ‘probably the best’ are great taglines. People have been using them organically for years.

“We haven’t really done anything with them for a while, but everything we do this year will be based around them. We want to do clever and witty things rather than laddish and slapstick.”

Carlsberg also plans to reinforce the premium credentials of Carlsberg Export after admitting it has lost its way a bit in recent years, while fighting to keep Special Brew available to retailers in the face of campaigns by councils and the health lobby.

Rana said: “Special Brew is still going strong. If you strip away the perception and tell the story, people would put it alongside beers such as Leffe as a craft product. People have their views on it and it gets picked up as an easy target for the health lobby. We have plans to tell the story.”

Carlsberg is also championing its small-batch craft beer Jacobsen, while introducing craft beers Bumblebee and Lawnmower to the off-trade this summer.