Creature comforts

What Wallace and Gromit did for the tea business, they might be able to do for other industries too.

‘Picture you upon my knee, just tea for two and two for tea.’ – Irving Caesar.

Tea has never been the most exciting of products. In fact, the most exhilarating thing to have happened in the tea industry in the last hundred years was the invention of the tea bag – that universal, ubiquitous repository for the stuff that finally put an end to that revolting experience of finding leaves on the end of the tongue. Nevertheless, even the creation of the tea bag could hardly be called a revolution.

And sadly, consumption of tea has been declining too. It has been eschewed by the great British Public, of all people, by that other noteworthy beverage – coffee. They have, it would seem, been enchanted by the smells of the Ethiopian Sidamo, Sumatra and Gold Coast blend wafting its way out of one or more of those US transplants along the local high street.

So what to do if you are unfortunate enough to be a tea manufacturer? Is this the end of the great British cuppa? Not at all. Not if you are as clever as the marketing folks at PG tips, that is. They didn’t just sit and cry in their beer (Surely, tea? – Ed.) and watch their market slowly evaporate, did they? Not at all.

By enrolling the help of the Nick Park’s distinguished creations Wallace and Gromit, this noteworthy division of Unilever shipped an incredible two and one half thousand million tea bags in the space of one month.That’s right! By inserting a limited edition (1.5 million is a limited edition? – Ed.) Mug with the likeness of Gromit the Dog into its 160 pack boxes, the tea flew off the shelves like hot cakes. And put tea back on the map for good.

Since the launch of this highly successful marketing campaign, the Gromit Mug has been a sought after item world-wide, with collectors in Oregon even paying over $25 dollars to one underpaid editor who bought entire consignments of the things from Sainsbury’s. (No names, please! – Ed.).

So what does the success of the Wallace and Gromit characters in the tea business have to do with our industry? Quite a lot, actually.You see, like tea, many industrial products – such as bearings, pumps, memory devices and air conditioning systems – have also become commodity items. And they’ve also recently come under fierce price pressure from far eastern manufacturers in China, Korea and Taiwan. The makers of such products are clearly in the same hot water ‘space’ as our friends in the beverage business were.

But taking a leaf out of PG Tips’ books, here’s their chance to differentiate their products. And make some money too boot. All they need to do is to put the same sort of magic back into their products – to personalise them, to mass customise them, to create an air of value if you will – in much in the same way as the folks at PG tips did.

Now I’m not suggesting that a licensing deal with Nick Parks, the gifted creator of the Wallace and Gromit, is the answer to everyone’s problems. But thinking along the same lines as the marketing folks as PG Tips possibly couldn’t do any harm.

Dave Wilson