Close-Up: Is reviving old brand icons just lazy?

Do Tetley Tea Folk and Honey Monster returns mean agencies have run out of ideas?

The Tetley Tea Folk, awakening gently from their slumbers in their first TV ad for almost a decade, will find not much has changed since their enforced sleep began.

In 2001, the UK economy was in the doldrums, household debt was growing and the Government was fearful that Britain couldn't hold out much longer against the worsening global condition.

Today, many clients still prefer to invest in advertising that consumers know and trust.

"In uncertain times, people like the familiar," Paul Fraser, Dairy Crest's marketing director, says. "Marketers are often too eager to change."

Maybe that's why the Honey Monster, first let loose by John Webster at Boase Massimi Pollitt in the early 70s, is back on-air promoting the Honey Waffles brand through Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. And why Nescafe's Gold Blend couple has returned, although McCann London sources are keen to stress that the new campaign has no direct connection with the old.

Some will cite revivals of this kind as a lack of imagination among clients and agencies. Jon Tipple, McCann's head of planning, says: "This approach could be just laziness, or maybe it's a reflection of the difference between how ad folk think and feel about their own industry versus the way real people consume it every day."

Certainly, a glut of familiar old stagers returning for an encore is unlikely. "There are very few brands with advertising that's deeply connected to popular culture," David Bain, the Beattie McGuinness Bungay planning partner, says.

In Tetley's case, the relaunch of the Tea Folk - created by D'Arcy MacManus Masius in 1973 - is seen by onlookers as the opportunity to bring back some consistency to what has been confused and sporadic advertising.

Their return culminates what the agency says was some five years of lobbying. "A lot of Tetley's previous work was unmemorable," Dave Hobbs, MCBD's head of art, acknowledges. "However, it was difficult to get Tetley to agree to bring back the Tea Folk while its management line-up still included some of the people who decided to dump them."

With the Tea Folk's original animator, Richard Ollive, back on board, Gaffer, Sydney, Archie, Clarence and Tina will be featured discovering a new range of teas that have emerged during their absence. At the same time, MCBD has drafted in Frank PR, with whom it worked closely on promoting the Hovis "go on lad" film, to stoke up the excitement surrounding the Tea Folk's return.

Nevertheless, there are few characters with such an iconic status that it matters little that many customers are too young to remember them first time around.

"The Tea Folk are such a part of advertising folklore that they pop up all over the place and everyone knows them," Andy Nairn, MCBD's executive planning director, says. "When you have characters with so much brand equity built around them who can help you solve a business problem, you'd be a fool to overlook them."

And for those brands with characters that can successfully travel through time, there's one big advantage. Advances in technology - particularly social media - mean that much more can be done to exploit those characters. Gaffer and Sydney already have their own Facebook pages, and further innovations are set to come.

CREATIVE - Danny Brooke-Taylor, executive creative director, MCBD

"Reviving old characters isn't a lazy option as long as you apply some modernity to them. With the Tetley Tea Folk, it hasn't been a case of taking some skeletons out of the cupboard and dusting them off. The challenge is in making them appropriate for today.

"We tend to gravitate to the Tea Folk's self-deprecating humour - Sydney is an idiot, Tina is a flirt - and there's so much latent affection for them. And the other powerful thing they have going for them is that they evoke powerful childhood memories that people have carried into adulthood."

CREATIVE - Russell Ramsey, executive creative director, JWT

"I think that characters like the Tetley Tea Folk are strong brand equities that are often too easily disregarded. How many times does a new marketing director arrive with an urge to do something new and different because he believes there's a need to stimulate reappraisal of his brand? It may seem like a good idea at the time, but the revival of the PG Tips chimps shows what strong properties such characters are.

"When you do revive them, it's very important that the new executions are interesting and relevant. A big advantage for the Tetley Tea Folk is that they can be used effectively across different channels, particularly online."

CLIENT - Ray Duffin, UK marketing director, Tetley

"I can see why people might see the return of the Tea Folk as showing a lack of imagination but we've brought them back for the right reasons.

"Not only has there been constant consumer demand but the characters themselves have great charm and are very much seen as the 'tea experts'.

"For the past ten years, our advertising has concentrated on promoting our variants. Now the Tea Folk give us the opportunity to do other things from online to mobile activity. The challenge is in gradually evolving the characters. It mustn't be a revolution."

PLANNER - Jon Tipple, head of planning, McCann London

"Reviving old brand characters without any modernising twist is a sign that a brand and its agency may have run out of ideas. This is why PG Tips Monkey is great and the Tetley Tea Folk, at least so far, are not. The former is fresh and social, the latter already feels as worn-out as the Folk themselves.

"I suspect agencies are tempted into this type of harking back because playing the nostalgia card in today's tough consumer climate is supposed to evoke better times and because they hope these characters will, meerkat-like, give renewed stand-out in their traditional channels and something to build a Facebook page around."

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