Twinings TV campaign: so wrong it’s not even funny

What on earth do the Twinings folk think they’re doing? Their latest commercial’s completely out in Adland.

Now, these are beautiful ads (there are three of them). And I’m all for showcasing new songwriting or singing talent. (Life can be hard for those who warble and strum, so if any young creative can snare a big brand to license her cover versions to, all well and good.) But the marketing team at Twinings need to be tied to a tree and slapped repeatedly about the head with a drawstring pouch filled with wet teabags.

These ads aren’t just wrong for the brand. They are fractally wrong*.

Take Twining’s previous campaigns featuring Stephen Fry. The great man’s not my cup of – well, y’know – but his plummy Englishness perfectly complemented a no-nonsense, down-to-earth brand with a pleasant sense of humour. The writing was brilliant, with Fry complaining how long it’d taken traditional Twinings (it opened London’s first tea shop in the 1700s) to get into the new-agey fruit teas that appeal to a younger (and predominantly female) demographic. Best of all, the ads sold the product, not just the brand. I’d never bought Twinings before Fry got involved, but pretty soon after my hand strayed a shelf down in the supermarket.

These ads, however, are “artsy”. Art for art’s sake, not because it does the right thing for the brand. And they’re always obvious. They happen when an art director sees a particular visual treatment leafing through awards annuals, and decides to use it in her next campaign, no matter what. It’s why you regularly see ads for totally different products with similar artistic treatments… and why no French TV spot ever features anything more than happy children and brightly coloured balloons. (Bit of a navel-gazing market, French-language TV.)

But think about a tea drinker. Not the most creatively rip-roaring individual, is he? Probably older, a bit traditional, might even believe the Daily Mail represents the voice of Middle England. I dare you to show this ad to any tea advocatenot the people who drink it in the office or on the building site, but the 20% of tea drinkers who buy 80% of all tea. And ask if they think that’s a refreshing representation of their brand.

The only reaction you’ll get will be, “Er?”

It’s WI members in Bournemouth and retired doctors in Tunbridge Wells who build a brand like this, not questionably literate 20somethings working out of an excitingly-painted repurposed warehouse in East London. You can’t drive sales with ads that appeal only to people in Shoreditch.

(The oddest thing is that these ads come from AMV/BBDO, and David Abbott (the ‘A’ of AMV) absolutely personified the intelligent tea drinker. No sense of their own heritage, young admen today. If you haven’t heard of David Abbott, think of Economist headlines. But I digress.)

There are, horrifyingly, other executions. I haven’t seen the one with the girl rowing across a stormy ocean (apparently a metaphor for life’s ups and downs) but my girlfriend has, and thought it was for sanitary towels. (Well, at least she got the stormy reference. Now that’s what I call “assisted recall.”)

These ads will doubtless win awards; that’s the awards game – make something beautiful. But they’re not good ads.

You tie the Twinings marketers who approved this to a tree, and I’ll bring the kettle.

* Wrong at every conceivable scale of resolution. Zoom in on any part of this advertising strategy, and you will find messages just as wrong as the entire advertising strategy.

About these ads

2 thoughts on “Twinings TV campaign: so wrong it’s not even funny

  1. Wow, Chris, I couldn’t agree less.

    You know much more about these things than I do, but, this is what happened when I first saw the ‘stormy’ advert.

    1) I was drawn to it visually, because it is absolutely beautiful.
    2) I was drawn into it by the story/idea of being carried from stormy to still waters
    3) I got an ‘oh hang on, what’s going on?’ moment, when the person meeting the woman at the shore helping her out of the boat appeared to be the woman herself
    4) followed by the ‘aha! Oh that’s lovely’ moment, when the two women become one woman holding a cup of tea.

    I remember that it was an emotional response, -an instinctive ‘understanding’ of the message.

    The whole campaign is built around the idea that we (especially women, their key demographic) should take time every day for ourselves. And you don’t get much more traditional than focussing on the restorative power of a cup of tea – a great example of selling benefits not features if ever there was one.

    It feels to me that Twinings aren’t trying to compete with other brands of tea here, they’re competing with ‘a glass of wine’, or ‘a bar of chocolate’, or ‘online bingo’, or whatever else women reach out to when they’re feeling a bit frazzled, or stressed, or lost.

    The adverts work for me, and I consider myself to be much more WI than Shoreditch these days.

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