APG Creative Strategy Awards - PG Tips 'monkey' by Mother London

LONDON - PG Tips' monkey explains how Mother London resurrected his career in a campaign which paid homage to the brand's past ads, as well as classic British comedy.

APG Creative Strategy Awards - PG Tips 'monkey' by Mother London
APG Creative Strategy Awards - PG Tips 'monkey' by Mother London

The following is an extract from Monkey's forthcoming autobiography 'One Nation Under Monkey - My Glittering Career':

CHAPTER 12 - The Chimp Also Rises

My good chum Mickey Rourke once said to me "You know, Monkey, the early noughties, like, really, really, REALLY sucked. Really." Trust me, If this was true for ol' Mick, it was doubly true for me.

ITV Digital, the first place where I'd enraptured my adoring public, had gone belly up. Al had moved out, and I was sure that I was finished, over, kaput, Katona. After all, at that time it seemed impossible for a brand mascot to jump brands. If the ship went down, you went down with it - I mean, we don't see Terry the Tiger selling vodka, now do we (much as he'd love to, the old soak).  

However, as dear, old Carol Voderman likes to say, "It's always darkest before the dawn", and, though I couldn't see then, the sun was about to rise.  I was about to embark on the most glittering part of my glittering career. Mother (more on them later) were coming up with clever ways to get their pal PG tips out of a spot of bother and demonstrating the difference between old school planning and new school strategy to boot. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back, back to 2006 when this all began.

I was, as we thesps like to say, 'resting'. Which for the uninitiated means I wasn't doing a bloody stitch of work, I just went from one celeb pool party to the next -gradually working my way down from Elton to Jade (rest her soul). I was in a dark place, I don't mind telling you. A very dark place.

But I wasn't the only one with a problem... Just as I, Monkey, had gone from being a British Institution to doing ruddy cameos on "The Office", the "nice cup of tea" - that cornerstone of everything that it means to be British -was being taken for granted. Britain used to be a nation of devout tea lovers, but in 2006 it seemed we had become merely a nation of occasional tea drinkers. 1

PG tips, my future benefactors, were also having a rough time. Formerly one of the most iconic British brands, their impact was fading. Unsurprisingly, much of this impact had come from their wise decision to use chimps in their advertising for over fifty years. When these ads were at their best they were a funny, topical and relevant part of popular culture - as much a part of Saturday night viewing as Morecambe and Wise. But, as is true with all simian stars, the chimps were a hard act to follow and PG tips had not reached the same heights with any campaign since. 2

So where did it all go wrong? I mused on this question with Patrick Stewart at my usual table at the Ivy.
"Monkey, " I remember him saying, "You've got to realise that many of the problems that PG were facing were category problems rather than problems specific to their brand."

"Go on", said I.

" I think those problems broke down into three categories. Tea had lost it's presence, reassurance and relevance."

"Do what now?" I said, ordering another cigar.

"Well, firstly, tea had lost its presence because it had been crowded out of culture by all the mocha-skinny-latte-on-the-go-fruit-smoothie-with-a-twist-lemon-mineral-water nonsense. Lots of exciting new drinks, pushing tea to the back of the cupboard at home.

"Secondly, everyone's obsessed with health these days..."

"Too right," I said, downing my brandy.

"...and no-one was really sure if black tea was good or bad for them. Should I lump it together with coffee when I'm cutting down on caffeine? Are green tea or redbush tea or whatever better for you than black? Who knows? People needed reassurance on the good properties of tea and no one was giving it to them."

"Bastards!" I said, getting a bit carried away.

"Lastly, tea had become complacent. For years the category reinforced its role in British culture. But in the absence of a modern context and voice for this message, tea (and the culture associated with it) had been taken for granted and had become fusty and old fashioned. Tea needed to reclaim its relevance. At least that's what Shatner and I think"

"You know what, Patrick," I said ordering the bill, "that was exactly what the guys over at Mother were thinking. In fact I'd go as far as to say that they're even smarter than you and Shatner as they'd come up with a way to fix it!"

"Maybe," said Stewart, looking a little miffed, "but they've never been the captain of the USS Enterprise now have they?"

He had a point.

Anyway, the Mother guys reckoned that given the breadth of the problems facing tea, a campaign driven by a single message just wasn't going to cut it. Instead they needed a campaign that was capable of delivering a number of messages concurrently, and so would attack the problems they faced on a number of fronts at the same time. Like Napoleon.

I remember my first chat with the one of the head nerds at Mother- I forget his name, tall feller- silly hair- anyway, he said that this aim should become PG's "Comms Idea" (they do love their jargon don't they). 

"PG tips needs to give the British public REASONS TO PUT THE KETTLE ON" he shouted, steaming up his nerd glasses, "reasons that can once more inspire tea-drinking folk out there, and remind them of the special place that tea holds in British culture and then educate them on all of their unanswered questions about tea. We need a set of reasons that can deliver...er...."

"Presence, relevance and reassurance?" I said, mentally high-fiving smarty-pants Stewart.

"Precisely," said king nerd, looking pretty impressed at yours truly's knife-sharp strategic mind.

"That's all very well," I said, "but people don't really care about tea-bags, do they? You can come up with all the clever reasons you like and no-one's going to listen to you. I mean, you'd need something as entertaining, fresh and brilliant as the original chimps campaign. To have a hope in hell, you'd need a comedy vehicle with the power to present messaging as entertainment, something that played off the same great traditions of British comedy that made the chimps such a success, but that was also modern and up to date. You'd need something that could put you back at the heart of tea-time telly, something that could generate the mass appeal of the great comedy acts. Easier said than done, four-eyes, let me tell you. Do you seriously think you'll be able to find a tea-drinking double act whom the public already loves and are also a sly nod back PG tip's chimp heritage? Not possible, genius. You'll never find that. I'd give up."

Pleased with my argument, I took a long slurp of my tea.

It was then that I noticed the nerd-king was a looking at me with a strange glint in his eye.

"Say that again," he said.

A few weeks later I was standing on a rooftop bar with nerd-king, sipping a double mojito as he outlined Mother's plan. If I'm honest, I was a little sceptical.

"Er, reality check, word-wizard," I said "Al and I may be the 'perfect answer' to this problem, and it may be 'daringly pragmatic', as you put it, to re-use us for PG tips. However, and I hate to point out the obvious to a genius like yourself, you guys have already made an advertising campaign with us.  You're buggered. And not in a good way".

"But that's what makes it so exciting, my Monkey chum," said four-eyes. "Just because it's never been done before doesn't mean it isn't possible. This is a chance for us to make planning get involved in something it doesn't normally get involved in - we're going to get out of our ivory towers and into the boardroom. We're not just going to think, we're going to negotiate. We've already brokered a deal with your current employers; Comic Relief, which means that all the profits from every bit of Monkey merchandise..."

"How I love that phrase," said I, "say it again."

" Monkey merchandise'. Anyway every penny of the profits will go to Comic Relief, extending PG's campaign, your fame and doing something good into the bargain. We're going to make ads with you and Al that answer every question the public has about tea, and once we've done that, we're going to talk about taste again. You and the tubby one are going to reclaim PG tips' rightful position as the best tasting tea in the country! We're going to make feature films! We're going to make teaching aids! We're going to make little monkey dolls and golf club covers! We're going to make PG tips this country's favourite tea! We're going to make history!"

"Easy tiger," I said looking at his red face and bulging eyes. "You'll give yourself a hernia".

But he was right.

Ah, my wonderful return to the nation's screens, in an ad that reunited me and Al and reminded the public how tea can bring friends together.

Owning a piece of the magic is as good a reason to put the kettle on as any other and 2.35 million of these special packs flew of the shelves.

I selflessly remind the nation that tea is only 100% natural tea leaves and nothing else.

Here I am explaining to Al how PG tips tea is now certified by the lovely folk at the Rainforest Alliance as being as sustainable as they can make it.

My first feature film performance. A thing of rare beauty. Although I was pipped to the Oscar by that hack Day-Lewis, this 10 minute film played as a B-feature in cinemas across the country.

Ah, the science bit. Here I am demonstrating how PG's unique pyramid bag gives the delicious tealeaves more room to move.

Our magnificent homage to another great comedy duo and an equally magnificent return to that central reason for choosing PG tips: it's the taste.

As I sit here, by the pool, dictating these words to my glamorous assistant, , I have to say I'm proud that my skill, talent and genius as a performer has done so much for PG tips. Proud, and, of course humble.

As humble as only a multi-award winning, chimp can be. Before Monkey came along PG was trailing behind Tetley. Today PG tips is the nation's favourite tea - number one in both volume and value. 84% of the British public associate me and Al with PG tips3 and we've seen remarkable growth on every level of PG's brand pyramid (whatever that is) with our "Conviction" score jumping from 19% pre Monkey to 26% (apparently that's very good). Best of all the category has halted its decline and the British public once again rates PG and a simple Monkey tea-bag salesman as one of their best loved bits of advertising.

But to my mind, I didn't just save tea. I also taught a whole new generation of nerd-kings about the enduring power of ad vehicles, a power that's only increasing as the world of brands inches ever closer to the world of entertainment. Now that I've done it who knows who else will get in on the act? We could have the Smash Martians presenting a kids show, the Cresta Bear telling us about global warming - maybe even Tony the Tiger will his get long-dreamed-of vodka gig.

After all, agencies and clients spend a whole lot of cashola making folk like me famous and encouraging the nation to fall in love with cuddly, weird and inspired characters. It seems insane just to discard us because of a new campaign, or a new brand manager, or if the brand dies. We're celebrities, Goddamit!

Celebrities who are capable of comebacks, transfers and sequels and who have a "long tail" of affection, love and life left in us after the campaign has ended.

As the ghost of John Webster once said to me, "Monkey, if BMP had kept hold of the rights to the characters that I er...'discovered' during my career, then they'd be bloody Pixar, and I'd be floating in a golden cryogenic tank in Money-land and not appearing in the drug-addled dreams of a celebrity simian."

Which got me thinking that maybe agencies should start thinking more like Pixar and less like agencies - reconsidering their position on I.P. and making plans to protect and extend the lives of the loved characters that they create, beyond the boundaries of a single campaign or brand.

But hey what do I know, I'm not an ad-man, just a humble thespian with Kylie on his speed dial.

Anyway, Ginger One from Girls Aloud, you can put down the note-pad, that'll do for today. It's time for my foot massage!

1 Apparently between 1990 and 2006 tea's "share of throat" (what a vile phrase) had decreased from 41% to 32%.

2 Their value sales had declined from £133.6M in 2001 to £128.2M in 2006.

3 Thank you Mrs. Millward Brown.