Brands can’t do everything on their own

Your cover story on Tetley (MW last week) gave insufficient weight to a key point. Even had Tetley managed to agree a health claim, is it credible to suppose people would really believe it was a viable point of differentiation for Tetley tea versus any other tea? Doubtless Tetley will argue it has reams of research to the contrary, but somehow I doubt it.

I know it’s a deeply unfashionable view but, years ago, this is what industry bodies were for. The premise was simple: while the brands knocked the crap out of each other, an industry organisation would do the job brands couldn’t, building the market through common, shared values. God knows the tea industry needs something along those lines. I know the Tea Council has done much work, but as my own experience with the now-defunct Butter Council proved, these organisations were rarely funded sufficiently to do anything decent, even if you could prove it was adding value.

The legacy of Thatcherism is that consumer choice ruled the day (amen to that). This led to a feeling that generic promotion somehow represented an anti-competitive brake on brand innovation. But look at the recent disastrous history of so called “functional foods”, or functional claims for familiar brands.

Arguably, had brand owners been prepared to share the benefits of a claim capable of market development, this would not have rebounded so dramatically on Tetley.

Steve Wheatley

Chief executive

Euro RSCG Life

London WC1

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