OPINION: Cowen on ... Typhoo

Just when you thought Campaign had had its fill of opinionated pieces on tea advertising, Typhoo goes and serves up the opportunity for another one. Having moaned about PG Tips' claymation and D'Arcy's dubious health message, it would be unfair, after all, to let the third brand relaunch of the year pass without a closer look. Especially when the strategy that Typhoo is pursuing through Clemmow Hornby Inge would be a lot trickier to pull off were it not for its larger rivals' urge to reposition at all costs.

The attraction of the Typhoo spots comes from the simplicity and inherent truth of the central idea. Tea is refreshing. Bang. There we have it - an instant product benefit over coffee and an easy pitch at the younger end of the market through the lager-style advertising CHI has produced.

So simple, you'd think, so why did we have to sit through the extended soap opera antics of our feathered friends or Ewan McGregor's atrocious poetry before we got to an advertiser who spotted it?

Because, of course, selling the generic concept of tea is a very different order to driving consumers toward a particular brand. In the absence of any massive product difference, it's left to habit and geography to decide most shoppers' choice of bags or loose leaf. No matter how strongly a consumer may recall a rival's ad, they're still unlikely to break with their traditional choice. In the south this is most likely to be PG, in the north it's probably Tetley and in the Midlands there's a reasonable chance that it's Typhoo.

The only criticism that can be levelled at the new Typhoo work is that it seems to ignore the task of persuading drinkers to change their habits.

As an advert for tea itself, it's untouchable - insightful, cheeky and utterly accessible. Yet, were the ads running against Tetley's "Aaahing" teafolk or PG's slurping chimps, you'd question their ability to steal customers from the big two.

The chimps and teafolk, though, have been packed off to the big cafe in the sky - and this is where its rivals have played into Typhoo's hands.

With Tetley off on its health tangent and PG distracted by the need to pull in young drinkers, Typhoo can state the obvious and brand tea's most inherent and attractive qualities as its own because nobody else is talking about them.

The return of the "oo

slogan presses home this advantage. At a time when rival tea manufacturers can't get rid of their characters and endlines fast enough, Typhoo is reintroducing one of the best-remembered in the category - and one that always captured refreshment and revitalisation better than most. Typhoo's advertising suddenly looks the most familiar in the marketplace - and in a market as conservative as tea, that could prove to be a real advantage.

To be fair, Typhoo needs all the advantage it can muster. Two years ago, the brand was a solid third with just under 10 per cent market share.

However, its attempts to update its positioning and challenge Tetley and PG through Mother's controversial Tommy Singh campaign appear to have backfired drastically. Figures from Information Resources indicate a sales collapse of 28 per cent in the year to January - with the likely result that Typhoo could sink to fourth, behind Yorkshire Tea. Whether Tommy was racist or not is probably beside the point. When your core market includes Birmingham's massive Asian population, he represented a hugely unnecessary risk.

After flipping the account to Fallon and then moving it on to CHI, Typhoo has unsurprisingly opted to drop the truly edgy stuff and get back to basics. However, in a sector as rife with insecurity as this one, having the confidence to do that is one of the most challenging statements a brand could make.

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