Like many tea lovers, I tuned into Victoria Wood’s BBC documentary ‘Nice Cup of Tea’ with great interest last month. I was not overly impressed with the show. The first part contained some interesting bits about tea plantations and tea makers. But the second part derailed by making baseless points about Brits being the only ones who know how to make ‘proper’ tea, and that tea beat Hitler and won the war. Ugh, can we not have a show that doesn’t mention the war?!
One interesting point that did come out of this show was about the need to update tea marketing/advertising in the UK. Whilst visiting a marketing firm, Ms Wood learnt that tea consumption in the UK has fallen by 14.5% over the past ten years. Ms Wood also spent time with a market research interview group that highlighted one major issue that is crippling UK tea consumption: many people do not see tea as ‘cool’. I would agree that tea has a major image problem, and a full-scale makeover through new and innovative marketing campaigns is greatly needed.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH TEA MARKETING STRATEGIES IN THE UK?
From the perspective of someone who is not from the UK, I see some major issues with the tea marketing strategies here. The way tea is currently marketed just reinforces an image that it is uncool or something your nan drinks. On television, tea companies use extremely hokey and juvenile mascots, such as monkeys or cartoon characters. I understand that the PG tips monkey is tradition and probably playing to the nostalgia of some British tea drinkers (perhaps those over 30-years-old). During Ms Wood’s show, this is clearly seen when she and Graham Norton are in stitches about old tea advertisements that feature talking monkeys and donkeys. But while some of PG tips ads were apparently wildly successful decades ago, does this play to nostalgia still work? If so, l can’t help but wonder how effective this marketing will continue to work in modern, multicultural Britain, and to the next generation of potential tea drinkers. Perhaps this eccentric marketing approach is best, and my non-British background fails to grasp the cultural significance of how a man in corduroy trousers hanging out with a stuffed monkey really is good advertising.
Some other UK tea companies have recently modernised their marketing, or they are recycling some effective ideas from the past. These strategies, I believe, have good and bad points. Twinings has made a push over the past couple of years with a rather emotionally-loaded advertising campaign that uses soft music, illustrated television adverts, and the slogan ‘Twinings gets you back to you’. Twinings believes that our lives are so hectic that we need tea to solve this issue. Frankly, their advert comes off as a commercial for a yoga studio, and that drinking tea is a feminine activity. For me, this ad moves Twinings out of the category of classy tea makers to arts and crafts shop owner. However, when you look at the company’s website, they have a rich tea selection, and their Tea Taster videos are a top marketing approach. I find this disconnect baffling.
Another approach is by London-based tea company teapigs, who have recently launched a campaign to market the health aspects of their matcha tea. This may seem like a modern strategy, but it is a message that has long been used in tea advertisements: PG tips, Typhoo, etc all used health marketing in the early 20th century. I’m not a huge fan of marketing tea on its health benefits because scientific evidence is constantly full of mixed messages, and I don’t like the food and drink industry telling people to consume something purely because it is good for them. But in the US, marketing the health aspects of tea (especially green tea) has been wildly successful over the past ten years, and I am curious if this approach will work in the UK.
WHERE TO GO FROM HERE?
What I do really like about the marketing of some of the small tea shops/companies in England is that they look sophisticated whilst trying to get people to drink high-quality tea. Companies like Chateau Rouge Teas and Newby Teas have classy-looking websites and their teas are packed in nice tins at reasonable prices. Postcard Teas not only offers some of the rarest teas available in the UK, but they actually put the tea estate and maker’s name on tins (outside of the UK, check out the German company Teekampagne and how they offer customers fully traceable tea). Other companies like teapigs, Canton Tea Co, and Rare Tea Company are also creating distinct brand identities and carving themselves firmly into the British tea landscape.
What scares me is that some tea shops/companies might push potential tea drinkers away by carrying tea that is too expensive. They need to carry a good line of ‘middle-priced’ teas for people who love tea, but don’t LOVE tea enough to spend £25 on 50 grams. Also, they need to be mindful of being too pretentious. Being overly pretentious is something that many new independent coffee shops in London are guilty of, and they have really put me off. Someone who likes tea a lot won’t necessarily care to understand the finer tasting points of a 1st and 2nd flush Darjeeling. They might, but don’t smother them. Just present tea drinkers with a good selection of high-quality tea and let it shape tastes.
I would love to hear what you think. Am I barking? Am I brilliant? Please feel free to share this link.