Tetley tea has a lot going for it. A very impressive marketing history for one. It was the number two brand in a highly lucrative market, second only to the brand leader PG Tips.
The brand seems to have benefited from being both aggressive and focused. These are both admirable qualities, and in this instance, they have been harnessed to a strong belief in the importance new product development.
Tetley’s original tea bags may seem an obvious idea now, but I remember as a child watching my grandmother cutting the corners off the tea bags and pouring the loose tea into her pot. That wasn’t merely her senility showing, although there was a measure of that, too. She had only ever known loose tea and my mother had to explain that these new-fangled bags were more than just a gimmicky measuring device.
The hugely successful development of tea bags might seem to have exhausted the possibilities of new product development. But no: there were further developments on the horizon.
Tetley has continued to push the tea bag, making it circular and then going to the extreme of adding a drawstring.
New product development can lead a brand to chop and change its advertising message and that’s where the danger lies when building a brand.
But Tetley has managed to develop its advertising without losing its essential brand values through the “Teafolk”. Irritating as they may be, and in fact have been for years, they are a tremendously strong branding device.
I’ve always had a fondness for the PG Tips chimps, the stars of what is probably Britain’s longest running advertising campaign, but they’ve somehow become stuck in another decade, and not a recent one either.
So, chimps used to have tea parties at the zoo when I was a child; but what is their relevance today? Do I really want to be drinking the same brand of tea that monkeys drink?
To give the Teafolk their due, they have evolved. In their most recent guise, they look more like Andy Capp, unshaven in the morning and the latest execution remakes the famous Morecambe and Wise stripper sketch. However, I think they should evolve a lot faster.
There’s a new generation of tea drinkers out there. They’re not afraid to flirt with sexy new herbal teas and infusions. The challenge for Tetley (having achieved the number one spot) is to keep moving forward.
The Beatles still sell records to a new generation. They’ve evolved (they’re now called Oasis). Cliff Richard still sells records, though not very good ones, and then only to old people whose children disown them.
For the Tetley Teafolk, the challenge is to grab a new generation by the throat. There’s no reason why they can’t – the Simpsons have proved that great ideas can cross generations.