Tea, the genteel English brew, might not spring to mind as a
ruthlessly competitive market sector. However, two big agency rethinks
in as many weeks suggest that competition among the UK's major brands is
reaching boiling point.
Last week came the news that Tetley is reviewing its advertising out of
D'Arcy, its incumbent for more than 20 years, prompting talk that its
famous cartoon tea folk are to be thrown out with the dregs.
This followed the news that Mother had resigned its Typhoo account,
citing creative differences. Fallon will take over from Mother's
controversial "Two thumbs fresh" message.
While Tetley is tight-lipped about its creative strategy, its decision
to review points to big changes. One catalyst may be its recent
take-over by Indian giant Tata, although a major reason for the
acquisition was the perceived strength of Tetley's marketing power. The
deal made Tata the second-largest tea manufacturer in the world.
When D'Arcy won the account in 1979, as D'Arcy-MacManus Masius, it set
about helping Tetley change the face of the tea market. The agency
introduced campaigns for the revolutionary tea bag, fronted by comic
characters Gaffer, Sidney and Maurice, to name a few of the tea
Over the years, the characters moved from their original casting as
factory control workers to take on real-life situations. With the
developing endline "That's better, that's Tetley", they concentrated on
building loyalty through consumers' interest in the exploits of the
PG Tips, the long-serving king of tea brands for the British public, was
knocked off its perch. Its reaction was to adopt a similar strategy.
It launched its own teabags and reintroduced its long running chimps
campaign through what is now BMP DDB.
From their conception in 1956, through a revamp in 1970, the chimps
became synonymous with PG Tips. Their best known incarnation was as the
piano movers and helpful tea lady in the classic 1970 spot "Mr Shifter",
but variations featuring the voices of top entertainers, such as Peter
Sellers, made them among the most recognisable frontmen in
Their strength as brand icons was demonstrated following the decision to
sideline them for 18 months just as the Tetley challenge was heating up
at the end of the 1970s. During their absence PG saw its market share
drop for the first time. Since the return of the chimps, PG has branched
out with a campaign featuring Caroline Aherne, as well as tactical work
associated with the launch of instant tea and new bags. But the apes
retain the top spot.
Not so their rivals, the tea folk. According to Lawrence Green, a Fallon
founding partner, the lovable toons could pay the price for a marketing
strategy that has fallen into the trap of concentrating on the
advertising rather than the brand. He blames the key brands for
fostering consumer complacency about tea. "The big brands don't stand
for anything, and the marketing strategy is stuck in the dark ages," he
says. "Tetley has undoubtedly been successful, but it is trapped by that
He prescribes a complete change for the brand, citing the way in which
Lowe Lintas revived Weetabix as a core cereal brand: "They talked to
consumers in a new way."
Market conditions also argue for a drastic rethink, with the latest
figures from ACNielsen pointing to difficult times for Tetley and Typhoo
Although Tetley reigned supreme for years, PG Tips fought back
Its Pyramid bags are now the top-selling tea brand and the company has
emphasised its ascendancy this year by expanding sales by 1.6 per cent
in what is a declining market.
But rivals Tetley and Typhoo both saw a substantial drop in sales this
year. And while supermarket own label products have threatened brand
supremacy in the past, this sector also declined, with sales down 5 per
cent year on year.
Increasingly the attention of consumers is being grabbed not by the big
brands, but by the speciality and herbal minnows. The fastest growing
brand in the top ten is Twinings Herbal, sales of which grew 9.3 per
cent year on year.
Tea as a social drink has fallen behind coffee, with the success of
chains such as Costa and Starbucks. Unilever fought back last year with
its Cha cafe concept in Brighton, which sought to glamorise tea by
offering a younger clientele iced, frappe, fruit and infusion teas as
well as the conventional cuppa.
This is where the conventional teabag is losing out - in the kind of
customer it attracts. It's an increasing worry that those consumers
hooked early with iconic campaigns for Typhoo ("You Only Get an oooh
with Typhoo"), Tetley and PG Tips are starting to disappear. Some think
there is now a vacuum as the manufacturers struggle to get
brand-conscious, coffee-drinking youngsters to turn to tea.
"Consumers identify with tea's advertising, not the brand values," Green
says. He won't be drawn on how Fallon will work on Mother's brand
positioning, but adds: "The legacy is all about perforations, pyramids
and promotions - that's got to stop if young consumers are to take it
According to Green, Typhoo's break from the old-style advertising is the
right way to go. Premier Brands reviewed the account out of the newly
formed Delaney Lund Knox Warren last April, bringing in Mother to shake
things up. Typhoo has thought ahead of its rivals in seeking to lose its
cuddly image to lure younger consumers.
Typhoo has tried a number of ad agencies over the years - including FCO,
BMP DDB, Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett - but has never found a "big
idea" to rival the chimps or tea folk.
The brand's longest running campaign was "Typhoo puts the T in
A variety of other approaches has been tried, including the 70s series
of commercials starring an animated gnu, and documentary-style spots
emphasising tea's role in helping to forge personal relationships.
In the 80s tea manufacturers tried to break into the soft drink sector,
launching soon-to-bomb fizzy versions of iced tea. Brooke Bond even made
the same mistake twice. Although its Coolbrew tea drink failed to move
tea sales up in 1991, it tried again in partnership with Pepsi and
Britvic, to launch the Nestea brand. Yet for now, tea defies this kind
of brand extension.
As with all major FMCG clients, the Tetley review is shrouded in
secrecy. D'Arcy's chief executive Barry Cook will not be drawn on future
strategies to fill the gap left by the Tetley tea folk and Tetley will
not comment on the list of agencies thought to have been lined up by the
pitch handler Agency Assessments International.
Some sources suggest the Tata acquisition, which, as well as giving it
access to the UK and European markets within which Tetley operates,
gives the UK-based company the clout to expand further overseas. Seen in
this light, perhaps a global campaign is on the cards.
While D'Arcy states it has no intention of losing the account, some are
sceptical that the agency will keep the business. As one source close to
the review puts it: "Why would Tetley call a review after 23 years if it
wasn't seriously thinking about changing tack, both strategically and
with a new agency?"
BIGGEST BRANDS SURVEY 2000 - HOT BEVERAGES MARKET
Brand Company Approximate Ad spend
sales in % change in 2000
2000 (pounds (pounds
1 Nescafe Nestle 335-340 -6.9 22.7
2 PG Tips Van den Bergh 125-130 2.5 10.6
3 Tetley Tata Tea 110-115 -6.4 8.1
4 Kenco Kraft Foods 80-85 18.8 11.3
5 Typhoo Premier Brands 60-65 -6.2 2.0
6 Twinings R Twining 35-40 10.2 0.9
7 Horlicks SmithKline
Beecham 35-40 -6.8 1.3
8 Cadbury's Hot
Chocolate Premier Brands 35-40 11.9 1.9
9 Maxwell House Kraft Foods 30-35 -10.3 2.4
10 Yorkshire Tea Taylors of
Harrogate 30-35 2.1 0.3
Source: AC Nielsen.